• Trust unfairly dismisses 19 public health staff after losing contract
  • South West Yorkshire Partnership FT failed to tell workers of decommissioning early enough and they missed chances of redeployment
  • Trust had England’s highest spend on exit payments in 2016-17

A mental health trust unfairly dismissed 19 staff after losing a community services contract, a tribunal has ruled.

South West Yorkshire Partnership Foundation Trust lost its case in front of employment judges, a judgment published on Monday revealed.

The judgement showed a management team seemingly unprepared for the possibility of its healthy eating and weight management services being decommissioned. A ringfence protecting their funding was removed in 2016.

Despite trust chief executive Rob Webster being informed on 4 July 2016 of the commissioners’ decision, a week later the service’s manager believed the worst that would happen would be staff being transferred to another employer.

The claimants said the trust gave them insufficient warning of the possibility the service could be axed.

The tribunal ruled that delays in formally alerting staff saw at least two people miss chances to take different jobs in the organisation.

The commissioner’s desire to save 10 per cent on the contract was known from December 2015 and formal discussions had been held with the trust from February 2016.

The judgement said: “As of 4 July 2016, the respondent was on notice of the decision. The commissioner left no doubt in his letters that the part of the service in which the claimants worked would be decommissioned and the provisions of [the law concerning the transfer of workers to another employer] would not apply.

“We are satisfied that any reasonable employer would then have taken immediate steps to commence discussions with the recognised unions to allow proper planning and agreements to be put in place. The majority of the union representatives became aware of the commissioner’s plans only some three weeks later on 26 July 2016.”

The trust did not manage to provide formal information to employees for another three days. This combined with a “further postal complication, meant written details were received nine days into the 30 day consultation exercise”.

When the letters did arrive, there were mistakes in employment end dates, redundancy payment totals and who would bear the cost for the early end of lease vehicle arrangements.

These and other shortcomings saw the judges conclude that all 19 claimants were unfairly dismissed.

The judges said: “There seems to be little doubt that no one in the senior management of the respondent, nor the claimants, envisaged a change which would lead to the loss of employment so soon, but the collective assumption was that the worst scenario would have been a transfer of their employment to another provider.”

The provider spent more than any other foundation trust on exit packages in 2016-17, HSJ research revealed last year.

The organisation spent £2.3m on exit packages, annual accounts data showed.

Alan Davis, director of HR, organisational development and estates at the trust - and who managed HR services at the time - said: “I’d like to once again apologise to our former colleagues that their redundancy was not handled as well as we would have liked; there was unfortunately a two week delay in starting formal consultation while we clarified the situation with commissioners. Our values are very important to us and, on this occasion, we did not live up to them as well as we could have done. Our ‘lessons learned’ event with staff side held last year highlighted areas for improvement that we have since addressed.

“We’ll continue to reflect on the judgement and will make sure we have even tighter procedures for when services are decommissioned at such short notice. We are committed to supporting our staff through times of change and, whenever possible, we always try to avoid redundancies, working closely with our staff side colleagues. On this occasion, while the majority of staff were offered opportunities to stay within the organisation, which a number accepted, not all were deemed to be suitable alternative employment.”