The chair and other non-executive directors of a social enterprise providing NHS community services have resigned en masse following a row over executive pay, HSJ has learned.

Documents filed at Companies House record chair Richard Samuel and all four non-executives at Bristol Community Health ceased their role with the community interest company on 1 May.

HSJ understands the resignations follow a deterioration of board relationships over the past year, which came to a head recently in a row over executive pay.

The organisation was formed from Bristol Primary Care Trust’s provider arm in 2011. Although the organisation employs many staff who NHS pensions, these are not open to new recruits.

The remuneration committee was asked to review executive pay levels after a number of vacancies arose and the executive team was restructured.

Internal appointments were made, and the individuals have been registered with Companies House as company directors, but HSJ understands the board could not agree their pay. The social enterprise does not publish details of its executives’ pay.

However, HSJ has been told non-executives saw the remuneration issue as the “final straw” following months of disagreements. These were over issues described to HSJ as related to the “pace of change” in the organisation, and its operation as a new social enterprise.

A spokeswoman for BCH confirmed the resignations.

She said: “This decision followed a series of board discussions and formal meetings in which it became apparent that members of the Bristol Community Health’s board differed in their views on what was in the best interests of the organisation.”

The departures come at a critical time for the organisation which is in the running for the contract to provide community services in South Gloucestershire. Those services had been temporarily “parked” with North Bristol Trust following the transforming community services programme in 2011.

The non-executives who have left include leader of the Labour group on Bristol City Council, Helen Holland, a former Bristol PCT non-executive Steve Taubman, and former United Bristol Healthcare Trust chief executive Hugh Ross.

HSJ has learned the non-executives have received letters asking them not to comment on the row. A spokeswoman for the trust confirmed it had sent letters “reminding them of their continued contractual obligations to not divulge commercially sensitive information”.

Interim non-executives are being recruited urgently and the trust is planning to recruit a staff shareholder to one of the posts. The executive team has also agreed to NHS England’s local area team conducting “light touch due diligence” of its governance.

The spokeswoman added: “We sincerely believe that these latest developments regarding our board will have no adverse impact on service delivery or on our staff.”