Headlines: June 2nd, 2003

With trade unions opposed to Foundation Hospitals due to present their views to the health secretary Alan Milburn this week an influential public service think-tank has said the hospitals could lead the way for a new wave of Public Interest Companies in all areas of public services.The joint campaign, including UNISON, the TGWU and the GMB as well as other professional organisations, wants Mr.Milburn to treat the first stage of Foundation Hospitals, which will be free from the constraints of central health service control,as pilots only.

The hospitals will be given greater freedom to manage and vary pay and opponents are concerned about the impact this will have on other non- foundation hospitals. They fear the new status could be the first steps in the break-up of the NHS.

Now the Institute for Public Policy Research has published a report saying Foundation Hospitals herald a new wave of Public Interest Companies across the public services. The report, “In the Public Interest: Assessing the potential of Public Interest Companies” does, though, highlight the complexities of this form of organisation and it points to difficult issues of finance, risk and governance. Paul Maltby, the Institute’s research fellow who wrote the report, says PICs offer the prospect of greater public involvement and could lead to real improvements in the quality of services.

As well as calling at Thursday’s planned meeting for Mr.Milburn to pilot the Foundation proposals rather than pushing ahead with more structural change, UNISON is contacting constituency Labour parties in areas where bids for Foundation status have been approved, calling for the issue to be raised with local MPs.