The Backdoor #NHS Privatisation you’ve probably not heard about in #Bristol

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January 22, 2018 by Protect Our NHS

More privatisation plans

Health bosses at North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) have commissioned a feasibility report, at a cost of £12,000, into setting up a separate, private company (otherwise known as an Arm’s Length Management Organisation – ALMO) wholly owned by the Trust.  The sole purpose of the proposed company is to initially transfer all Facilities Management (FM) staff, mainly domestics, porters, catering and maintenance staff, along with the administrative functions and some managers.

This would in effect move all these staff out of NHS direct employment.

The impact will be to seriously threaten their terms and conditions, pay and the right to an NHS pension at the end of these employees’ working lives. Most of those affected are residents of the wider Bristol area, and local MPs need to be alerted to what’s happening.

Tax evasion?

The carrot for this manoeuvre is that VAT payments can be recovered by private companies.

While the question needs to be asked as to why the NHS should pay this tax when many public bodies and private suppliers do not, local trade unions and NHS campaigners regard this as tax evasion.  It is also naïve to suggest that if there are savings to be made in this “wheeze” that this Government won’t seize these back or cut future funding by the amount “saved.”

Only 9 months ago NBT trade unions discovered that the Trust had advertised a significant proportion of its cleaning services by means of an Official Journal of the European Union (OJEU) notice without any consultation. When a challenge was made the unions were told that the Trust “had not intended to advertise the service and that it was a mistake”. Clearly, it is difficult for trade unions to negotiate with an employer who claims to inadvertently place expensive adverts for the privatisation of its services.

Indeed, we have lost Trust in NBT!

Trade union petition

The three unions involved in FM – GMB, Unite and Unison, and other unions involved within the Joint Union Committee (JUC) – have agreed to work together and are asking Bristol residents first, to write to their MPs asking them to contact the non-executive directors at the Trust* who will be involved in making the final decision, and second, to support the petition that has been launched against this move which is gaining massive support over a short space of time.  In opposing this back door privatisation, the JUC which covers all unions at NBT is supporting the petition (copies available from the Joint Union Committee Office, Somerset House, Southmead, BS10 5NB):

Petition Against the Privatisation of FM services: catering, cleaning, portering, maintenance workers etc.

The Unions and staff at NBT call on the Trust Board to honour the nationally agreed terms and conditions set out in Agenda for Change. The Trust should withdraw from any attempts to privatise the Facilities services by means of an arm’s length (subsidiary) company owned by the Trust.


Health bosses protect their own interests

Initially the feasibility study is considering transferring all frontline Facilities staff to the subsidiary company. This involves catering, cleaning, portering, maintenance workers, many of whom are low paid, part-time and BME staff.  Observers have been quick to notice that top NBT bosses paid between £2100 and £4000 per week (p 67 here) will not be transferring to a private company as they’ll want to hold on to their NHS pensions. But if you’re earning under £300 per week you are clearly ‘outsourcable’ and expendable.

Looking at comparative pay levels and conditions of service, the detrimental impact on staff of outsourcing to a replication of QE Facilities Ltd is stark:

QE Facilities pay scales

In the summer of 2017 hundreds of similarly outsourced staff – cleaners, porters and security guards – employed by Serco at Barts NHS Health Trust Hospital went on strike in protest at the erosion of conditions of service as a result of outsourcing. This is possibly a foretaste of what’s to come if NBT have their way.

A meeting with NBT FM staff on 21 December 2017 was told that other staff groups would be looked at: this includes consultants and nurses.  This has the potential to affect all NHS employees directly or indirectly, as there is no guarantee that NHS staff will keep their Agenda for Change terms and conditions which were put in place to counter gender pay discrimination.

Outsourcing doesn’t work

Currently North Bristol Trust outsources a percentage of domestic services to a private company called City and Kent. Trade unions say they continually fail to meet their contractual obligations with little or no penalties and this has a detrimental effect on the standard of cleaning at the Trust.  The effectiveness of outsourcing cleaning services across the NHS has been widely questioned, with studies suggesting quality and value both decline and increasing incidences of MRSA.  [So it’s good news today (22 January 2018) to read that Labour has announced that in government it will take hospital cleaning services back into public hands].

All these deal directly impact on patient care and flow within the Trust.  Patient flow is crucial as it impacts on bed occupation and emergency department waiting times, yet such back door privatisation deals do not guarantee improved services to patients.  And all NHS patients are affected by these deals.

In any case, considering the crisis NBT is currently facing this is exactly the wrong time to be outsourcing these services where there exists no financial or clinical justification for so doing.

Remember Carillion

And as we’re seeing in the collapse of PFI construction giant Carillion, responsible for building Southmead Hospital, outsourcing is ineffective, wasteful, expensive, and not in the interests of workers or patients.

These are uncertain times for NHS staff and services. No one, not even health bosses at NBT it seems, knows how services will be affected, or what has happened to the guarantees, insurances and maintenance contracts on the Brunel building and most of all what is going to happen to those staff employed by Carillion to carry out maintenance and other duties for NBT.

Clearly the Carillion privatisation deal has not worked for NBT and sadly not for many other thousands of workers and public bodies across the country. Nor is this new plan in the interests of staff or patients. It is back-door privatisation by any other name.

Protect Our NHS will closely follow this story over the next few weeks and months.


*Write to:

North Bristol NHS Trust Headquarters
Southmead Hospital
Southmead Road
BS10 5NB

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“That’s the standard technique of privatization: defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Noam Chomsky

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