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Trust ‘outsourcing plan’ branded an underhand way to erode staff pay

East Kent Hospitals University FT (EKHUFT) has come under fire for its plans to transfer staff to a new wholly-owned subsidiary (WOS) company.

The move will see around 850 cleaning, catering and portering staff currently employed by Serco, as well as 250 NHS employees working in estates, procurement and facilities, transferred to the new organisation, called 2gether Support Solutions.

The trust has clarified that NHS staff will have their terms and conditions of employment protected under the Transfer of Undertakings law. Serco, which has provided facilities services to the trust since 2012, has agreed to exit its contract a year early.

However, major union Unite has harshly criticised the move, claiming that the current director of estates, Finn Murray, who will head up the new company as managing director, has “refused to commit to guaranteeing continued recognition with Unite and other unions in the new private company.”

Unite regional officer, Kathy Walters, called the plan “a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” arguing that the prime aim is to cut costs and erode NHS workers’ pay, terms and conditions.

She argued: “Rather than bringing Serco workers back in-house, East Kent Hospital bosses are seeking to avoid paying nationally agreed NHS pay rates by setting up an arms’-length company and transferring long-serving direct employees into it.”

Calling the move an “underhand way to treat hospital staff,” Walters vowed to campaign to stop the outsourcing of estates and other staff.

“In the coming days we will be working with our partner trade unions to consult with members, patient groups and concerned members of the public on taking forward a campaign to stop what is effectively privatisation via the back door,” she added.

This is not the first time that WOSs have been criticised, with many fearing that they are in fact a backdoor to privatisation.

The trust declined to respond to the union’s comments, refusing to enter into “tit for tat,” but the chief executive of EKHUFT, Susan Acott, has recently said: “Many of the staff who are transferring from Serco used to work directly for East Kent Hospitals so it’s great that they will be more closely connected to the trust again.

“This is a slightly different set up than some trusts in that most of the staff transferring into the new organisation are coming from the private sector.”

She added: “Our aim is to have an organisation with a social purpose that is rooted in its local community and gives stability – the 25-year contract for east Kent will provide this stability for these crucial services.”

EKHUFT argues that transferring services into the wholly-owned company will allow services to remain in the NHS family and enable the teams currently employed by different organisations to work together more efficiently.

The company will have the freedom to run its own budgets, which the trust says will enable it to make decisions to improve standards based on local need. Savings made by the company will reportedly be invested into frontline clinical services, the social enterprise and its staff.

The new company will begin trading from 1 August.

Top image: Peter Byrne


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