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Select Committee on Public Accounts Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180 - 199)



  180. Right, well then a brisk answer and we will move on.
  (Mr Wearmouth) Yes.

  Chairman: Yes. Thank you. Is that all right, Mr Gardiner?

  Mr Gardiner: Yes.

Mr Williams

  181. You told us earlier this photograph on the front of the book shows a nurses' home that was sold in Lambeth two and a half years ago for £3.8 million. What nurses' accommodation was built with that £3.8 million since we know there is a desperate shortage of nursing accommodation?
  (Mr Crisp) Let me just find the figure.

  182. Which figure?
  (Mr Crisp) I have a note on this. I need to find you the answer.

  183. Were any nurses' homes built?
  (Mr Crisp) Yes.

  184. There were.
  (Mr Crisp) It was something associated with Guy's Hospital and the London Lying In Hospital that was converted into accommodation for staff as a result of using part of that money.

  185. How many?
  (Mr Crisp) The point of the question, it was a smaller number of residential units which were provided than were in that bid.

  186. How many did this originally accommodate?
  (Mr Crisp) That was the figure I was trying to look for. I am sorry I have not actually found the page. 240.

  187. How many did you rebuild?
  (Mr Crisp) It has got accommodation, because I think part of the project is still going on, of up to 70.

  188. 70, so we lost 170?
  (Mr Crisp) Yes.[3]

  189. Pity in a way, is it not, when we are so desperate for nurses' accommodation and they cannot afford to live in Central London? Right, let us move on to the NHS Estates. When was that set up?
  (Mr Wearmouth) I will have to look it up.

  190. Approximately.
  (Mr Wearmouth) I think it was approximately ten years ago.

  191. How many?
  (Mr Wearmouth) Ten years ago?

  192. Ten years ago. Yet we still find only 82 per cent, as Mr Gibb has pointed out and others have referred to, 82 per cent of trusts have an estate strategy?
  (Mr Crisp) The definition of an estate strategy was only prepared the year before that. There was not a requirement on trusts to have an estate strategy ten years ago.

  193. That makes it worse, does it not? That actually makes it worse. You only thought of getting it that recently. What on earth have you been doing in the mean time? Is not the reality that you have no confidence whatsoever in NHS Estates?
  (Mr Crisp) No.

  194. In that case, how do you explain paragraph four which points out, on page two, "... a Public Private Partnership initiative, expected to be operative ...." from this current year ".... with a property portfolio worth up to some £400 million". If we go then to paragraph 1.7 on page we are told a Public Private Partnership will be "... to sell the majority of the remaining properties in the retained estate and to take over the Agency's trading functions". What do we find the Agency is left with "NHS Estates will itself retain its policy lead and role ..." I must say that fascinates me as a full time occupation " regard to the provision of guidance...". Well, we had better hope it is better than the guidance they have given in the last ten years, had we not? The reality is there is no reason for this organisation to exist at all is there now? You have passed a vote of no confidence in it, why on earth are you keeping it?
  (Mr Crisp) Right. Well, let me attempt to go back ten years. Over this period the decision was made as I understand it to create NHS Estates to group together the expertise that was available within the NHS to make sure that we did some of the things that we talked about earlier, about raising the profile and the management skills and the professionalism of how we handled estates matters over the last ten years. You can see a number of things have happened over that period, including the fact that for the first time ever, in I think 1988—

  195. With respect, you know I am time limited. Will you answer my actual question. What is left to justify keeping that organisation in existence?
  (Mr Crisp) I think I have to answer first of all that I have confidence in NHS Estates and that they have achieved a whole series of things which now it is appropriate that we ask other people to do. Organisations change and move like that. What they will be doing in the future—if you are asking me that—is they will be working much more closely on the thing that is absolutely central to what we do in the NHS which is looking after patients.

  196. There you will be giving policy leads and to whom? Are they giving policy leads to the Private Public Partnership?
  (Mr Crisp) They will be working very closely with NHS organisations on all those important policy matters like how you design an operating theatre, what are the requirements you need for an operating theatre, how you make sure that you meet the environmental cleanliness health and safety standards which are much more strict in hospitals than they are in other sorts of properties. Where else would we get that expertise than from a body that is actually accustomed to working and dealing with hospitals? There is a core set of things which it is right we keep centrally to help and support people working in the NHS. There are a whole series of other things which as these various reports done, commissioned in part by NHS Estates, show that we can work more effectively by involving the private sector in disposals or whatever else. There are certain things which it is very important that we keep as expertise within the system.

  197. Can I tell you I hope my colleagues are a lot more convinced than I am by that answer. Tell me, what is this Public Private Partnership needed for? You have been selling properties up to now and suddenly this body is to be created with a £400 million portfolio. Now you are hoping to sell £350 million a year, are you not? What is this Public Private Partnership for? Why is it needed and, more importantly, what is it going to cost?
  (Mr Crisp) The reasons for establishing it have been about making sure that we do all the things that I just talked about which is to make sure that we make the best use of both our own expertise but actually the expertise that is out there in the market. It has been established—

  198. Why do you not get a good agent or a consultant, why do you need a Public Private Partnership? Why a Public Private Partnership simply to undertake a fairly normal operation where there are plenty of bodies in existence, namely selling property? Why do we need suddenly this new gimmick?
  (Mr Crisp) The big point about it—and then again let me ask Mr Wearmouth if he will fill in some of the details—is that actually this is about making sure that we get the best deal. The view that we have taken is that this will maximise the incentives both for whoever our private partner is to get the best deal and for the NHS.

  199. What is a private partner going to be contributing? What is the partnership? Tell me what it is about; what form will it take and what it will cost and how much it will save of your costs?
  (Mr Wearmouth) The NHS Estates was subjected to its five year quinquennial review like any other agency and actually the review did highlight the good work the agency had undertaken.

3   Ev 24, Appendix 1. Back

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