Published: 27/06/2002, Volume II2, No. 5811 Page 9

Intervention by the Treasury scuppered the possibility of a deal that would have kept all NHS ancillary staff in-house in private finance initiative schemes, Unison general secretary Dave Prentis revealed last week.

Speaking on the eve of the union's annual conference debate on public services, Mr Prentis admitted Unison had 'always believed we would have trouble with the compromise' deal to extend the arrangements being piloted in three NHS PFI projects to all PFI schemes. In these projects most staff are retained as health service staff and 'seconded' to private contractors, with only supervisory staff transferred. The terms of the secondment model were rejected last month by Unison's health sector conference.

Speaking ahead of the public sector debate, Mr Prentis told journalists: 'We always had problems with the health [PFI] arrangements. We had reached an understanding with [health secretary] Alan Milburn, which the Treasury scuppered, to keep everyone in-house. The Treasury came up with the alternative proposal that people would be seconded.'

He added: 'The private companies stuck their oar in and said 15 per cent. [The supervisory staff] had to come out.'

And Mr Prentis said that before the health sector conference decision had put the deal on hold, discussions in relation to the three pilot schemes had meant '98 per cent of staff would have been kept' in NHS employment. He said union activists were not 'attacking full-time officers of the union', but 'the antipathy is to the Labour government - they're not looking to do deals with them'.

In the speech the next day, Mr Prentis lambasted as 'corruption' the actions of five accountancy firms which were both advisor to the public sector and auditor to at least one of the private consortium members in 45 PFI schemes.

He described the accountancy firms - PricewaterhouseCooper, Deloitte Touche, Ernst & Young, KPMG and Arthur Andersen - as 'advisers to the government, devising, auditing, evaluating the policy from which they are profiting'.

It was 'a conflict of interest' with 'the government caught up in its web', Mr Prentis said. 'If this happened in the City, they'd call it corruption.Well, It is happening in PFI and I call it corruption, ' he declared to loud applause.

The conference re-iterated Unison's demand for implementation of the Agenda for Change pay modernisation scheme to be fully funded in next month's comprehensive spending review. And delegates voted through a resolution on NHS funding, urging that 'modernisation and extra funds for staff pay must go hand-inhand' and condemned franchising for no-star trusts as 'the appointment of private sector managers to run the NHS in England'.

The Treasury was not available for comment.

www. unison. org. uk l tash. shifrin@emap. com