New consumer champion for Oxfordshire formed with backing of Prime Minister

The founding members of the Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society: Alison Baxter, chief executive of Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action; Judith Wardle, chairman of Oxfordshire Carers Forum, Linda Watson, of Oxfordshire Rural Community Council; Yvonne Cox of Oxfordshire Wheel; Sue Butterworth, chairman of Oxfordshire Link; and Jean Nunn-Price MBE, of The Midcounties Co-operative

A new consumer champion for health service users in Oxfordshire has been launched – with the blessing of Prime Minister David Cameron.

Fourteen voluntary and community groups have come together to form Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society, with the intention of bidding for the contract to establish a Local Healthwatch body in the county – and reckon they are ‘the bid to beat’.

The Government wants every local authority in England to establish a Local Healthwatch – to replace existing Local Involvement Networks – by April next year.

The Department of Health says the independent organisations will give citizens and communities a stronger voice to influence and challenge how health and social care services are provided locally.

Mr Cameron could not be at Friday’s [October 26] launch, at The Vaults in Oxford, but sent a letter of support in which he said the group embodied “the Big Society in action.”

“It is a fantastic example of the sort of response we need to the challenges our country is currently facing,” wrote Mr Cameron.

“It is wonderful to see Oxfordshire’s voluntary and community sector organisations coming together for the good of our local communities and I want to wish them and OCBS the very best for a long and successful future.”

Interim chairman Yvonne Cox, who also chairs Oxfordshire Wheel, said: “Oxfordshire County Council will be putting the tender out in a couple of weeks, and we’ve taken the view that we are the bid to beat, because we’ve morphed from the organisations that have been involved in the consultation and engagement events – we’ve been involved since the start.

“The organisation that is awarded the tender to form a Local Healthwatch has to meet a number of stipulations. It must be local, trusted, and known, with a good network of local connections. We tick all of those boxes.”

Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society has been formed as a co-operative – a UK first – with its ‘open door’ policy and equal say for every member – has been specifically designed to allow for the widest possible organisational and individual membership.

“We would very much like to get the biggest membership base before the end of the tender date, and would encourage other organisations to join our co-operative,” said Yvonne.

The OCBS model – which was devised and funded by co-operatives in the UK – can be replicated for free by any organisation, group of organisations, or authorities that want to deliver Healthwatch in their area as a co-operative.

Jim Pettipher, deputy director of Co-operative Futures, a business development agency which helped OCBS through incorporation, said: “The Community Benefit Society model is perfect for this as any person or organisation that shares its objects is eligible to join on a one member one vote basis, and its objects are to benefit the community’s health, care and wellbeing.

The constitution of OCBS, which is in the process of applying for charitable statues, also enables the body to carry out functions beyond its original remit, should any local authority choose to procure it to do so.

For more information about Oxfordshire Community Benefit Society, contact ORCC, Jericho Farm, Wootton, Witney. OX29 4SZ.

Anyone interested in forming a Community Benefit Society to tender for a Local Healthwatch contract in their area should contact Jim Pettipher at Co-operative Futures at or on 01452 543030.

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