HC Deb 08 May 1984 vol 59 cc727-8
12. Mr. Michael Brown

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he is satisfied with the progress being made by regional and district health authorities in contracting out ancillary services.

Mr. Fowler

Reports are now being received from the regional health authorities. They summarise programmes for putting out to competition tender domestic, catering and laundry services. These reports are being studied and we shall decide what action to take in the light of them.

Mr. Brown

Is my right hon. Friend not a little worried at some of those reports? Is he not frightened that some of those reports might show a lack of anxiety on the part of some regional and district health authorities in putting forward genuine proposals for contracting out ancillary services? When my right hon. Friend studies those reports, will he show firmness of touch in ensuring that those authorities that are not serious about privatisation are made to be serious?

Mr. Fowler

I accept my hon. Friend's statement. The reports we have seen so far show that the health authorities are taking the exercise extremely seriously. I do not perceive the type of difficulties put forward by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Given that once a service is removed from the NHS it is probably financially impossible to bring it back, will the Secretary of State enable the health authorities to insist on a bond against bankruptcy by a private concern?

Mr. Fowler

Some contracting organisations already provide that facility, but I do not believe it is necessary for me to lay that down as a stipulation.

Mr. David Atkinson

What studies have been made by my right hon. Friend's Department, or any health authority, on the savings that could be made and the greater and more efficient service that could be provided if individual hospitals were contracted out to the private sector?

Mr. Fowler

We have not made studies of that type. Studies have been made inside the Health Service showing that substantial savings can be made if we contract out some of the ancillary services. That is the reason why the competitive tendering programme is going foward.

Mr. Dobson

Does the Secretary of State accept that the proportion of services contracted out fell every year since 1979? It is only since the right hon. Gentleman started fiddling the rules at the behest of Conservative Members, who are hired consultants of the privatising companies, that the proportion of services contracted out has increased. Why will the right hon. Gentleman not publish all the representations he has received from Conservative Members in favour of contracting out, so that we know exactly what has been said to him, by whom and for how much?

Mr. Fowler

I believe that, on reflection, the hon. Gentleman will accept that the statements he has just made do not in any way represent the true position. The allegation that we are in some way fiddling the rules, as the hon. Gentleman said, is entirely untrue and without foundation. The answer to the only basic point that the hon. Gentleman put is that over that period other contracted-out services, such as building maintenance and equipment maintenance, have increased substantially. I cannot understand why the hon. Gentleman, if he finds that savings can be made in the ancillary services and resources can then go to patient care, does not support that policy of common sense.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will my right hon. Friend confirm that in-house tenders have been highly successful in securing jobs and that tendering has led to a great deal of economy?

Mr. Fowler

Indeed, and not just in the Health Service, but in other areas as well, one of which is the Ministry of Defence, with its health responsibilities. All those instances have shown that we can provide better value. That is what we are trying to do, and that is the sensible way to run a health service.