About 40 NHS maintenance and facilities staff at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, who face being transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary (WOS) designed to avoid paying tax, will strike for three days later this month.

Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said porters, housekeepers, domestic assistants and maintenance staff, who are being transferred to Summerhill Services Ltd from 1 July, will strike on 24-26 June.

Unite regional officer Frank Keogh said: “This unpalatable transfer will strip our members of their status as NHS employees and is a part of the accelerating backdoor privatisation of the health service. Ultimately, it will lead to salami slicing of patient services.”

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, has waged an extensive campaign against these wholly owned subsidiaries as they could lead to job losses and the erosion of service provision.

Unite is concerned that trusts are forming these wholly owned subsidiary companies in England so that they can register for VAT exemption and compete on a level playing field with commercial competitors who register for VAT exemption for their work in the NHS, when NHS trusts can’t.

Frank Keogh added: “Unite is disappointed that trust bosses want to push ahead with their plans, despite the overwhelming opposition of the workforce.

“We believe NHS should mean the NHS and its values – and not the outsourcing of hardworking and dedicated staff to a wholly owned subsidiary after they have given years’ service to the NHS. If they had wanted to work for a private company they would have chosen to.

“We are strongly against the formation of these entities which, we believe, could lead to a Pandora’s Box of Carillion-type meltdowns – with the adverse knock-on effects on patient services and jobs.

“At a meeting with chief executive Roisin Fallon-Williams on 10 June, Unite made it clear that, if the trust wants to resolve this issue, it must withdraw its proposal to transfer staff, and allow our members to maintain their status as NHS staff.”

The workers voted by 92 per cent to strike from 07:30 on 24 June until 23:59 on 26 June on a 70 per cent turn out. Unite is coordinating its industrial action with Unison.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced last year that it was consulting on the WOS issue. The consultation ended in November and the requirements that trusts and foundations have to meet to create wholly owned subsidiaries were tightened up.

This also included a condition to consult stakeholders, such as staff and the wider community.  However, it is still not known what the criteria are for such consultations.

A number of trusts have already decided to abandon plans to set up such a subsidiary, although earlier this week Unite warned that about 1,000 NHS staff at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust could face being transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary also designed to avoid paying tax.


Notes to editors:

For more information please contact Unite senior communications officer Shaun Noble on 020 3371 2060 or 07768 693940. Unite press office is on:  020 3371 2065 Email: [email protected]

  • Unite is Britain and Ireland’s largest union with members working across all sectors of the economy. The general secretary is Len McCluskey.