Gloucestershire NHS plan to outsource 900 staff must stop

The board of Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust will this Wednesday (8 November) hold secret talks on the Gloucestershire NHS plan to outsource 900 staff into a subsidiary company.

In a bid to cut costs, the Trust wants to pursue an alleged VAT saving by selling services to itself. Managers have been open about their desire to refuse new staff access to NHS pensions once staff are no longer NHS employees.

Staff affected are in the estates and facilities departments, covering services like portering, cleaning and maintenance. At the closed meeting on Wednesday the board will decide whether to proceed  with consultation on the subsidiary company. The Trust’s final decision is due in January. Tax implications make it likely the Gloucestershire NHS plan to outsource 900 staff will be in place by spring 2018.

Hospital bosses hope the scheme will save money thanks to a VAT avoidance method. An HMRC policy known as the “Contracted Out Services Direction” allows public organisations to claim back VAT that would be incurred when they contract services to external organisations. The Treasury enacted the Direction to encourage public organisations to privatise their services. Gloucestershire NHS plan to set up their own company so it can reclaim VAT on the activities covered.

Management are likely to change pensions and conditions when workers are not covered by national NHS standards. The Guardian newspaper reported the Trust stating that new contracts for the 900 were “part of their thinking”, implying significant changes to terms and conditions.

Gloucestershire Trust is paying KPMG and DAC Beachcroft to write proposals for the subsidiary company, but has not disclosed the cost.

UNISON organiser in Gloucestershire Michael Sweetman said:

“The NHS works when all staff are together as one team. Splitting up the health service is not going to make anything better for patients. We need joined up services where management focus on delivering care, rather than distracting themselves with risky tax dodges.

“Nobody apart from the government denies the NHS is in dire financial straits, but this VAT scheme is simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s all public money anyway and the only real beneficiaries are consultancies hoovering up taxpayers’ money.

“Working for the NHS is a badge of pride for staff and the 900 affected want to stay in it. Warm words from the Trust about the “NHS family” won’t mean much when sick pay, pensions and more are on the table. Although the Trust have prevented UNISON addressing board members, they can’t ignore the concern among staff about this scheme.”

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