About 1,000 NHS staff at Frimley Health NHS Foundation Trust face being transferred to a wholly owned subsidiary (WOS) designed to avoid paying tax, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Monday 2 September).

Unite, which has 100,000 members in the health service, is calling on the trust board at its meeting at Frimley Park Hospital on Friday (6 September) to reject the plans.

To highlight the strength of feeling on this matter, Unite is balloting its more than 100 housekeeping, estates’ management, equipment maintenance, catering, portering, procurement and security staff members for strike action from Thursday (5 September). The ballot closes on Thursday 19 September.

These workers are employed at Frimley Park Hospital, Camberley; Wexham Park Hospital, Slough; and Heatherwood Hospital, Ascot.

Unite regional officer Jesika Parmar said: “We believe that this is biggest proposed WOS in England, so far, which could adversely affect up to a 1,000 employees at the trust.

“Our members are being balloted for strike action as they have no wish to be employed by a wholly owned subsidiary designed to avoid paying tax.

“They are concerned that their pay and employment conditions will be seriously eroded if that happens and that, in turn, will lead to services for patients being adversely affected.

“We are calling on the trust board to ditch these plans. The trust governors meet tomorrow (Tuesday 3 September) and they can exert influence on the board members’ meeting three days later.

“We are seeking an undertaking from the trust that it will agree to continue to employ all our members and not transfer them to a WOS.

“We have held protests over the summer against what the trust is trying to do in an underhand manner, as the health unions have never received the business case for this misguided and flawed exercise.

“The trust bosses have repeatedly promised since June that we will have an opportunity to see the business rationale, but the document has never appeared. This heavy-handed veil of secrecy would suggest that the trust has something to hide.

“Serious questions also need to be asked about the future of NHS buildings in any WOS arrangement, as these are public assets paid for by the taxpayer and should not be handed over to a hived-off company.

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

“Our members consider that the identity of their employer is a condition of their contract of employment and do not wish that being changed unilaterally.”

The Frimley trust provides NHS hospital services for about 900,000 people across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey and south Buckinghamshire. Unite has 220 members at the trust and is only balloting those directly affected by the WOS.


Notes to editors:

Unite has waged an extensive campaign against these wholly owned subsidiaries as they could lead to job losses and salami slicing 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.

There were more than 30 such subsidiaries in England in 2018.

The Department of Health and Social Care announced last year that it was consulting on this 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. A number of trusts have already decided to abandon plans to set up such a subsidiary.

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.