“At times we did get too close to big business” – Burnham reflects on New Labour and the NHS

Andy Burnham, Shadow Health Secretary, has spoken out about New Labour’s relationship with big business and their approach to the NHS.

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In an interview with The Times (£), Burnham, who became Secretary of State for Health under Gordon Brown, admitted that New Labour had made some mistakes when it came to business. He explained, that under New Labour the party perhaps lost sight of how to deal with the ‘gaps’ in society, saying:

 “at times we did get too close to big business . . . I fully sign up to the New Labour message of the early years that we need to be pro-business to support our aspirations for equality and public services, but there is a danger that if you become too close you are unable to disentangle what are vested interests from the national interest.”

He went on to pinpoint particular companies that should be held accountable when it comes to paying taxes, saying “People are really angry about the sense that these companies are not paying their way. Starbucks, Google, Amazon and the rest . . . are damaging our town centres and the fabric of our life but they are not contributing to repair that damage. It’s a moral question.”

In recent weeks the party have faced attacks for accepting money from Unite, Burnham defended Labour’s links with the trade unions and pointed out that receiving money from unions such as Unite was the best way to go about funding of political parties: “The much maligned trade union link is the best thing in terms of party political funding. School dinner ladies, lollipop ladies [and] care assistants are not a vested interest, they’re part of society and the people we depend upon. Len McCluskey is articulating for them and he does it very forcefully and effectively.”

Burnham a passionate advocate of the NHS has been criticised in the past for overseeing private sector contracts  when he was health secretary. He admitted that he had changed his mind since, citing personal experiences as a large factor:

 “There was a period in the 80s and 90s and the first decade of this century when people said the market has the answer to everything and I honestly don’t think it has . . . I lived through those years. I’ve used opposition for its proper purpose. I’ve really reflected.”

“I was a minister promoting choice in terms of elective procedures, but at the time my sister-in-law was dying in the Royal Marsden of breast cancer. She said to me, ‘I don’t want to be here. I know what’s happening and I want to be at home with the kids.’

“I found I couldn’t get her home. It was a massive moment of realisation for me about what fundamentally matters when it comes to choice and control in terms of healthcare. Choice should be about getting care that’s personal to you and that you want.”

“I think we let the market in too far.”

“I think it just increases complexity. You’ve got two entities dealing with one person and that increases the potential for poor communication but also cost. Maybe there is a difference here. What works in my view is the public NHS. It’s worked for 67 years.”

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