Socialist Worker

Back this health workers’ fight to stop outsourcing

An inspiring battle by a group of Lancashire NHS workers can help roll back the tide of privatisation in the health service, writes Tomáš Tengely-Evans

Issue No. 2604

Workers protesting against outsourcing in Lancashire last month

Workers protesting against outsourcing in Lancashire last month (Pic: Fred Fitton)


Health workers in Lancashire are on the frontline in the battle against NHS privatisation.

Around 600 porters, cleaners and other low paid workers at Wrightington, Wigan and Leigh NHS Foundation Trust plan to start a 48-hour walkout next Wednesday. They are fighting plans to outsource their jobs to WWL Solutions Ltd.

A porter in Wigan told Socialist Worker, “The bosses have lost all respect, it’s all about money for them.

“It’s the rich get richer and poor get poorer—and if we can put a stop to it we’ll fight.”

The new company is one of a growing number of “wholly-owned ­subsidiaries” in NHS England. These privately registered companies—for now owned by NHS trusts—manage hospitals buildings, land and maintenance.

Hospital bosses say they save money that can then be ploughed back into patient services.

In reality they are the latest in a long line of privatisation scams pushed by New Labour and Tory governments.

Their preferred method was private finance initiative schemes that saw banks and corporations build and maintain hospitals. These firms then milk the NHS by charging rents and upkeep costs on long-term contracts.  

Collapsed

After money-guzzling firm Carillion collapsed in January, bosses have been changing tack. 

The wholly-owned subsidiaries’ immediate aim is to drive down workers’ wages and conditions. 

Andrea Proudlock is the Senior Associate—Real Estate at DAC Beachcroft, an international law firm that advises hospital bosses on wholly-owned subsidiaries. In a recent article she explained how firms can “take on new employees on different terms and conditions”.

This means that the workers are no longer officially on the NHS payroll. And a lower wage bill makes it more attractive for a private investor to buy the subsidiary in the future.  

There is also a bigger agenda of making the NHS operate more like a private company without any immediate selloffs. 

“The aim is that it starts to attract private sector experience into the company,” said Proudlock. “Surveyors with specialist skills, for example, wouldn’t necessarily be attracted to an estates role in the NHS.”

But the outsourced companies “start to attract that expertise, which again could help drive up revenue and capital”. It’s another attempt to further submit the NHS to the logic of profit and loss. As NHS workers in Lancashire prepare to take to the picket lines, every trade unionist should build solidarity for their fight..

The porter said, “I’ve never been on strike, but the feeling is ‘Yeah, we’re going to go out’.

“We’ve got two days in May—and we’ll just carry on if they don’t move.”

A win for them could begin to roll back the tide of NHS privatisation


Behind the bosses’ lies on wholly-owned subsidiaries

Most hospital bosses are careful not to spell out the real aim behind setting up “wholly-owned subsidiaries”.

After workers voted by 82 percent against the outsourcing plans, managers were forced to push their plans back by a month until early July. 

Chief executive Andrew Foster wrote to workers to try and reassure them that privatisation was not on the agenda.

The trust “has a yearly cost improvement plan target of £14.5 million,” he wrote, claiming it was just a money-saving exercise.

“On a proportional basis, 11 percent must come from estates and facilities, equating to a recurrent saving of £1.5 million. 

The great PFI swindle
The great PFI swindle
  Read More

“This is not optional.”

But a business plan for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust makes clear that it plans a massive transfer of public assets into private hands. 

Its wholly-owned subsidiary, NTW Solutions, would take over £36.4 million—primarily made up of the trust’s £33.5 million land and buildings portfolio. 

The Naylor Review said that NHS trusts needed to manage their land and buildings more efficiently. That’s code for saying private developers should get their hands on valuable, often inner city land. 

In November 2017 Adam Ellis-Morgan of the Rider Levett Bucknall building consultancy wrote an article for the Birmingham Post newspaper.

He eyed up an “untapped goldmine of underutilised land and buildings” in the West Midlands. 

And he derided the fact that “historically, trusts which own properties have treated them like the family silver”.

“They see them as assets to be kept safe for a rainy day but it’s not always entirely straightforward to dispose of the assets,” he wrote. 

Bosses see wholly?owned subsidiaries as an opportunity to sell off this “untapped goldmine”.

By bringing in private sector figures, it’s hoped that they will manage NHS assets in a way more amenable to developers.


A tax scam to grab more cash

Wholly-owned subsidiaries are a giant tax scam.

Private firms can claim back VAT on products used in the running of their business. But hospital trusts can’t claim back the tax.

By setting up wholly-owned subsidiaries, bosses can get their hands on more cash.


Thousands of jobs are at risk

Some eight NHS trusts in England already use wholly-owned subsidiaries. So far they have outsourced 3,000 jobs.

A further 16 trusts have plans to outsource workers, according to the Health Service Journal.

That means some 8,000 more workers could be outsourced.

They would no longer have nationally agreed NHS pay and conditions.


Labour pledges must go further

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth attacked NHS “backdoor privatisation”. But Labour’s manifesto only promised to make the NHS the “preferred provider” of services.

Labour should kick out all the privateers.


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