CONTROVERSIAL plans to establish a company to run a swathe of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust services are under attack the day before the proposals are due to go before trust bosses.

A full business case for the plans to set up a "subsidiary organisation", wholly owned by the trust, to run estates, facilities and procurement, is to be presented to the trust's board of directors tomorrow. (Oct 25)

If directors approve the company would run services such as hospital porters, cleaners, ward catering and laundry.

But the plans face criticism from Keighley MP John Grogan, trade union UNISON and Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath, the opposition spokesman on health matters.

On Saturday (Oct 21) campaigners in Keighley, Ilkley and Shipley collected signatures for a petition opposing the proposals.

Commenting earlier this week, UNISON area organiser Michael Parkinson said: “As Mr Grogan has warned, this plan will lead to lower wages and poor conditions for new staff, and the public don't want to see that happen.

“They know it'll drive service standards down for patients as people are driven away from service by wages they cannot survive on.

“We intend to present our petition to trust board members on October 25, the day they meet to decide whether to press ahead with this disastrous plan.”

Mr Grogan said: “Given the volatile political situation in the UK at the moment, I think it would be prudent for the board to pause the idea of setting up a subsidiary board.

“From my discussions with Labour’s shadow health ministers, they'd not look favourably on this idea, which will involve a lot of additional and unnecessary expense in the costs associated with setting up and servicing an additional set of board directors.”

He added he was surprised the trust board will discuss the proposals behind closed doors, instead of at a public meeting.

Lord Hunt said: “I’m very opposed to the plans. This is a clear attempt to avoid payment of VAT. But the idea that HMRC would let the NHS keep that money is naive.

“The cost of any VAT payments made under this provision is counted as public expenditure, so the HMRC would have to be compensated for it out of public expenditure.

“My main fear is the implication of this being a back door towards privatisation of NHS services.

“They've told staff ‘don’t worry, you'd be transferred under your NHS terms and conditions and you’d keep your NHS pension.’

“But any new members of staff would be employed under the new company’s terms and conditions and wouldn't be part of the NHS pension scheme.

“And when you look at staff turnover, over time more and more staff would be employed under the terms of the company rather than the NHS.

“This is a back door way of doing staff out of their NHS terms and conditions. As an organisation they're very foolish to do this."

Airedale NHS Foundation Trust's spokesman said: "The board will be considering the business case in private session because of the commercially sensitive nature of the information in it."

The trust has previously argued that establishing a separate company to run a range of services would enable them to work together more efficiently, run their own budgets, make their own decisions and bid for other contracts, "while keeping them in the Airedale family".