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Whittington deal: Protesters tell board ‘keep private hands off our hospital’

Hospital struck deal with Grenfell tower contractors Rydon three days before fire disaster

26 October, 2017 — By Tom Foot

Protesters marched in 2010 and 2013 over threat of A&E closure

CAMPAIGNERS fighting a deal that will allow a private company to revamp NHS land and property around Whittington Hospital are set to demonstrate outside its doors.

The protest – called for Wednesday – comes with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn understood to have already raised “serious concerns” about the Highgate hospital’s move to form a new development company with Ryhurst, a subsidiary of Rydon, the lead contractor at Grenfell Tower in west London. The New Journal revealed last week that the deal had sparked protests from staff and NHS campaigners in the wake of the devastating blaze at Grenfell and the ongoing investigation into the circumstances.

The new Strategic Estates Partnership between the Whittington and Ryhurst will be looking at revamping the hospital site, said to be underused but full of value. Mr Corbyn, the Islington North MP who supported two high-profile and successful campaigns to halt sell-offs at the Whittington over the past seven years, is not in favour of hospital trusts entering into long-term deals with construction companies, one of his spokesmen said, adding that his concerns had already been raised privately.

It has now been established that the deal with Ryhurst was agreed three days before the Grenfell disaster. New Whittington chief executive Siobhan Harrington said that contract negotiations with Ryhurst were “paused” following the fire but, after legal advice, it was decided to press ahead with setting up a new company.

The company has not been blamed for the tragedy in west London and rejects accusations that its works failed regulatory standards in any way. In a statement Ms Harrington said: “The preferred partner was identified on Friday, June 2, following a 12-month, complex and significant procurement process. This was before the terrible tragedy of the Grenfell fire.  “Following the Grenfell fire, the [hospital] Trust board paused the process. The Trust undertook further due diligence and sought legal advice, as a result of which we recommenced the process.”

The plan to set up a new company with Ryhurst was finally rubber-stamped during a private section of an otherwise public board meeting earlier this month. The estates strategy, agreed in February this year, proposes modernisation and sale of 44 buildings and sites owned by the hospital. An online petition against the deal was signed by hundreds as warnings of a wave of protests continued.

Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition chairwoman Shirley Franklin helped organise past campaigns to save NHS services and land at the site, which saw protest marches through the streets of Camden and Islington led by the New Journal’s double-decker battle bus. In an open letter to the board this week, she said: “Do you really think that the decision to use a Rydon subsidiary to manage and profit from the estates strategy is a morally acceptable plan? The decision was made in secret. You know that this is the biggest insult to the Whittington community.”

The campaign group is now calling for opponents of the deal to protest outside Whittington Education Centre, to the rear of the hospital, at 1.45pm on Wednesday. Rydon is also responsible for the maintenance of the Chalcots estate in Swiss Cottage under a PFI deal with Camden Council. It said it would not be adding further to press statements on the new company issued by the Whittington.

Asked by the New Journal how Ryhurst could profit from the deal, Ms Harrington said: “The Trust may enter into a ‘risk and reward’ agreement with Ryhurst, whereby we defer fee payment to them, and only pay fees if the project is successfully delivered. Ryhurst take the risk of undertaking the work without payment, if the project is not successfully delivered. They are rewarded through fee payment when the project is successfully delivered.”

She added: “If the Trust is procuring a project, and Ryhurst helps the Trust to reduce the cost that any future provider may charge, the Trust may agree to sharing the savings identified with Ryhurst.”

Board member removed himself from talks

A WHITTINGTON board member removed himself from discussions about setting up a new company along with a subsidiary of Rydon to prevent any accusations of a conflict of interests.

Tony Rice, who is chairman of an investment company that is the sole shareholder in a company that provided materials used on the Grenfell Tower refurbishment, “removed himself from the discussion”, a trust spokesman told the CNJ yesterday (Wednesday). Mr Rice, a qualified accountant, was appointed non-executive director at the trust in 2014 and is currently chairman of the hospital’s business and development finance sub-committee.

The committee is tasked with monitoring the trust’s overall savings programme. In a statement, hospital chairman Steve Hitchins said: “Tony Rice has been of great value to the trust board. He has at all times ensured he acts within the principle of good governance. I hope that he does reapply to the non-executive director role in February 2018.”

A statement from the hospital said: “The board discusses any conflict of interest at each board meeting. Tony Rice clearly declared his interests when the board discussed the Strategic Estates Partnership item, and he removed himself from the discussion.  Tony Rice was not involved in the decision of the board to award preferred bidder status to Ryhurst.”

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