The smoking gun: govt involved in formation of SW NHS pay cartel ‘national pilot project’

Since I first learned, and started writing, about the South-West NHS Pay, Terms and Conditions Consortium (from here ‘the cartel’ or SWC), I’ve been convinced that the government was involved – in spite of its consistent denials – in the formation of the cartel with a view to using it as a pilot project that will be rolled out in the rest of the country if it is successful in the South-West.

Then-Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, during the House of Commons debate on the NHS on 16 July, insisted that the activities of the cartel were a matter for employees and not for government interference, and that pay cuts were not and never had been part of the government’s plan. This failure under pressure to follow through on an agreement given to the cartel only a week before may well have cost Lansley his job.

It’s very plain – and on record as shown in the article linked in the previous paragraph – that the government approves of the cartel’s plans to reduce the pay of health-workers, thus undermining national negotiations. But equally clearly, the government wants to be able to distance itself from the political fall-out of the plans, maintaining plausible deniability of any involvement in what is without question an attempt to introduce regional pay in defiance of the established national framework for negotiations, ‘Agenda for Pay’ (AfC). Hence the various statements about it being a matter for employers and not for government.

Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust replied last week to my Freedom of Information request concerning its communications with the cartel and its member Trusts. Once again, sensitive emails have been left out. But among the 93 PDFs containing emails that I received from them was a message – dating from before the cartel was even officially formed – that I believe constitutes a ‘smoking gun’ which proves that the government did far more than merely approve plans that were presented to it by an independently-created cartel group.

On the contrary, the government was involved from at least 6 months before the cartel was formed, and possibly even earlier – and has always intended that the cartel ‘experiment’ was to be repeated across the country if it succeeds in its ‘pilot’ region.

The document in question was written by health consultancy Finnamore Ltd to the South West Chief Executives Group, summarising the meeting of the SWCEG that took place on 2 June 2011 – over 6 months before cartel plan was formalised.

In a section titled “Communicating with Patients and the Public“, the notes state:

Based on the comments of Tim Kelsey, Director of Transparency within the Cabinet Office, and the fact that the South West would be used as a national pilot site, it was important that an Acute Trust CEO was involved in the Steering group which was being established.



(highlights are mine)

The issue of an Acute Trust CEO being involved is unimportant. But the statement clearly establishes that the Prime Minister’s office (the Cabinet Office is synonymous with no.10) was involved with the earliest conception of the cartel, providing commentary – and always intending that the South West cartel was in fact a pilot site for the whole country.

This one, innocuous-looking paragraph proves that the government’s statements up to now about it not being the business of government to interfere in the independent actions of NHS employers have been merely so much posturing – a political ruse to deflect accusations of an ideological attack on NHS workers.

It’s always been clear that – if only out of informed self-interest – every single person in the country who cares about the NHS should be fighting not only for the NHS in general but against the SW cartel in particular. But now we have it in black and white – the government sponsored the creation of the cartel as a ‘national pilot project‘.

If the SW cartel is not defeated, it represents the future – and only the first step of the future, as the government will not stop with reducing NHS staff pay – for the whole of England and Wales, and possibly of the whole UK, with all its inevitable impact on patient care as well as staff morale and eventually the very survival of this national treasure.

Wherever you live, for your own sake, your children’s sake and their children’s – find out what is going on locally to resist the unprecedented and multi-pronged Tory attack on the NHS. And then join in.

(See here for an immediate small step you can take – please sign and circulate this important petition!)


  1. according to the piece on this morning’s Today Programme, this isn’t even just about the NHS – it’s all public sector workers and is no more than the continuation of the attack on the Trade Union movement and any collective pay bargaining in this country

    1. Absolutely! The NHS is just the case I’m most familiar with – and the SW is a test-bed for the whole NHS and the public sector in general. This govt won’t be happy until they’ve dismantled the lot.

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