Sunday, 15 March 2015

Healthy Choices

LANARKSHIRE has long been a byword for political backscratching, from Monklands to property deals, virtually all of it involving the Labour Party.
But today the boot is on the other foot, with Cabinet Secretary Alex Neil, the SNP MSP for Airdrie & Shotts, caught up in a cronyism row.
Last autumn, while serving as health secretary, he appointed the secretary of his local SNP branch to a £12,000 NHS post instead of a veteran social work professional.
Neil staunchly defends Phil Campbell as simply the best person for the job.
However voters might perceive it as all rather cosy.

Neil also seems to have left himself vulnerable to a complaint under the Scottish Ministerial Code. Section 5.9 of the Code says ministers "must" consult the First Minister before making "any appointment which is likely to have political significance".
Neil knew from the outset that there would be a political row about Campbell's appointment.
"Obviously, before I had decided to appoint him, I knew that the Labour party would try to cause a stink about it," he said yesterday.
Yet Neil didn't consult the First Minister (then Alex Salmond), as the Code commands.

Here's a longer version of the story in today's Sunday Herald.

Tom Gordon
Scottish Political Editor

ALEX NEIL is embroiled in a cronyism row after promoting an official from his local party to a £12,000-a-year post on an NHS board instead of a senior health professional.

In his previous cabinet role as Health Secretary, Neil appointed railway manager Phil Campbell as vice-chair of NHS Lanarkshire instead of respected social work expert Dr Avril Osborne.

Campbell, a full-time First Group worker, is secretary of the SNP in Neil’s Airdrie & Shotts seat.

Dr Osborne, the loser in the two-horse race, is a former inspector of social work at the Scottish Office with 40 years experience in her field and a Masters degree in management.

After the Orkney child abuse scandal in the early 1990s, when officials wrongly removed children from their families, she was sent in to fix the department as its new director.

One of the biggest issues currently facing Lanarkshire and other NHS boards is the integration of health and social work services.
Alex Neil

Neil, now Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights, personally made the decision to appoint Campbell over Osborne last November.

Labour said the appointment “stinks of cronyism”.

Neil first appointed Campbell, 40, to the board of NHS Lanarkshire in May 2013, on a four-year term paying £8008 a year for a commitment of eight hours a week.

After the previous vice chair stood down last summer, board chair Neena Mahal asked its non-executive members to apply for the position, and it came down to a straight fight between Campbell and Osborne.

At the end of October, Mahal put the pair forward to Neil for a decision, saying both were “strong nominees” but had “different skillsets and expertise”.

Mahal said that since 70-year-old Osborne joined the board in March 2014, she had made “a significant leadership contribution” and “quickly gained credibility and respect as a valued member of the Board... [and] is committed to an ethos of quality and improvement”.
Dr Avril Osborne

While Campbell brought “a fresh perspective from the corporate sector”, had demonstrated “a robust and rigorous approach to governance”, and “gained credibility as a Board member who endeavours to be fully involved... in spite of being in full-time employment”.

Mahal said she would welcome a chance to discuss both nominations with Neil “to determine the most suitable person”, however four days later Neil chose Campbell without further ado.

The promotion gave Campbell a £4004-a-year pay bump for four extra hours work per week. 

Section 5.9 of the Scottish Ministerial Code says ministers "must" consult the First Minister about “any appointment which is likely to have political significance”, but Neil did not do so, despite anticipating a row with Labour.

A fortnight after the decision, Neil was moved out the health brief in a reshuffle and is now the Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners' Rights. 

Pamela Nash, Labour MP for Airdrie and Shotts, said: “Alex Neil picked a man who knocked doors and delivered leaflets for him, rather than a woman with senior management experience in social work.

From NHS Lanarkshire Annual Accounts 2013-14
“At a time when our NHS is under huge strain this stinks of cronyism and jobs for the boys.

“NHS Lanarkshire is facing huge challenges because the SNP Government aren’t giving our NHS the support it needs.

“People will find it very hard to believe that an SNP official was the best man to stand up for the NHS in Lanarkshire.”

Neil vigorously defended the appointment, saying Campbell was simply the best person for the job and it would have been wrong to reject him in case his SNP ties led to controversy.

He told the Sunday Herald: “The reason I picked Phil Campbell, number one, he was the most experienced member of the NHS Lanarkshire board.

“Obviously, before I had decided to appoint him, I knew that the Labour party would try to cause a stink about it.
Neil's PS tells health officials he has appointed Campbell

“It’s a bit of a cheek from Pamela Nash and the Labour Party to accuse anyone else of cronyism  when Lanarkshire Labour and the Mafia that runs it have lived off cronyism for 50 years.

“This was not cronyism, this was me picking the person who was the best person for the job and who had been nominated by the chair of the board.

“I don’t think there’s anything unreasonable about that whatsoever, and he is a first class vice chair in NHS Lanarkshire, and he got it on merit, almost despite the fact he was politically active, because I knew it would be controversial because the Labour Party would kick up a stink.”

Neil said of Campbell: “He’s a very senior guy in the railway industry and it’s another reason why I picked him, because of his experience in business.

“I think we need, in terms of improving procedures and processes in the Health Service, we need outside business expertise and Phil can provide that as well.

“So he ticked every box that was conceivable in terms of competence and capability.

“I adhered entirely to the code of practice in all of these things.

Scottish Ministerial Code
“Labour’s looking for a scandal where there isn’t one.

“What Pamela Nash knows about the health service you could write on the back of a postage stamp.”

Campbell did not respond to email requests for comment.

NHS Lanarkshire said: “We are delighted with the appointment of Phil Campbell to the role of vice-chair and with the skill and expertise he brings to the Board.”


  1. Well done Mr. Gordon. Yet again more smearing and innuendo for our Sunday delectation.

    Why don't you do an in -depth account of cronyism in Scottish Labour councils? Or of nepotism a bit higher up the Labour ladder. Should be easy enough.

  2. alec neil...
    the smp who doesn't listen to local people..
    but listens to the sound of business ...

  3. the man should be removed, he has done more damage to our party than labour and the Tories together. loosing followers in their hundreds because of mossed rail freight.