Health trust HQ final deal unsigned

A FINAL deal has yet to be signed on the new riverside headquarters for Suffolk's health trust, The Evening Star can reveal today.

A FINAL deal has yet to be signed on the new riverside headquarters for Suffolk's health trust, The Evening Star can reveal today.

As more information was released about the Suffolk Primary Care Trust's (PCT) controversial plans to move its offices to Rushbrook House in Bramford, it emerged that a legally binding contract has yet to be signed.

In a series of answers to questions posed by the Star, the trust states: “Suffolk PCT has agreed a 'heads of terms agreement' - a formal precursor to a contract - and negotiations on the details are continuing to progress well.”

While formal, the document is unlikely to be legally binding meaning the trust could potentially pull out of the move should a more suitable alternative arise.

Graham Nunn, head of commercial law at Kerseys solicitors in Ipswich, said: “It depends on the precise terms of the agreement but usually they are a sort of pre-contract.

“They do not tend to be legally binding.

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“It's the sort of thing you would get where a decision was fairly complicated and you wanted to put down in bullet points what the general agreement was before it was converted in to a legal document to be signed.”

The PCT's decision to move to the waterfront offices in Paper Mill Lane has angered the public and many in the health community as it comes at a time when the health service is facing unprecedented levels of debt and service closures are rife across the county.

It emerged last week that the trust had held informal discussions with Ipswich Hospital about locating in soon-to-be-empty buildings on its site - meaning the £300,000 rent would have gone back in to health care rather than to a private company - but this move was rejected by the PCT.

South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo is so alarmed by the decision that he has written to health secretary Patricia Hewitt asking her to call it in for review by the Department of Health.

He states: “I am writing in the light of grave concern in Suffolk about the way in which the new Suffolk PCT has taken a decision to relocate its offices to a new site near Ipswich.

“Despite requests by the local media and others, this decision does not appear to have been taken as transparently as would be desirable.”

The Star asked the trust 20 questions about the move but was met with silence on several of them, which prompted us to ask seven further questions, which are answered below.

Do you think the new Bramford offices are the best place for the PCT to be located? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk>

1) Has the PCT had discussions with the hospital about the possibility of using buildings which may become vacant on their site? (i.e the Haywood unit at the north end of the site)

The search for suitable accommodation for the new Suffolk Primary Care Trust was extremely thorough and found no available NHS property that would be suitable. Given the requirements, Ipswich Hospital was not a realistic option.

After the first most important requirement, affordability and value for money, it was considered essential that the base should be located so that health services and local communities would be within easy reach.

It is also important - if the PCT is to retain the best expertise of the existing workforce - that the new workplace is accessible for staff employed in the current offices. These issues were stressed as hugely important by both staff and members of the public during the consultation on the PCT merger.

2) Has the final contract been signed? Or could the decision still be changed if a more suitable alternative was found?

Suffolk PCT has agreed a "heads of terms agreement " - a formal precursor to a contract - and negotiations on the details are continuing to progress well.

3) The PCT states that 11 other options were considered. What buildings were they? Why have the exact details of these not been released?

NO ANSWER

4) Who was on the team that found the possible sites? What was the process used to determine these sites?

The transition board that was set up to ensure the transition from four PCTs into one instructed a lead officer to undertake a search of suitable options against various criteria.

The criteria included for example that: all costs should be kept to a minimum; any location would need to have good road links to cover the county; and that the accommodation would be fit for purpose.

The final choice fits ideally the size of the new organisation, eg the number of people employed, and it will be ready at the right time, which has practical benefits and cost efficiency.

5) How long does the contract run for? Are there any get-out clauses?

The PCT has negotiated a lease contract that offers the right balance of security and flexibility. It is a 21-year lease with favourable break clauses.

6) Why has the new PCT only named two of its non-executive directors so far?

So far only two appointments have been confirmed by the NHS Appointments Commission. This is an independent body which appoints non-executive directors. A third non-executive director has been selected to take up their post in April.

This will be announced as soon as the appointment is confirmed. We hope to announce the appointment of the final two non-executive directors and a substantive chair in the New Year.

7) The PCT have recently hired a PR agency to handle their media communications during the “transitional period”. How much is this costing?

The PCT has extended an existing arrangement with an external agency that was held by one of the former PCTs.

The PCT is extremely keen to ensure that it has the capacity needed to respond to the information needs of the public, the media and others locally. Given that health care is changing rapidly and radically, the PCT will be doing much more to involve local people in health care decisions in the coming year.

We will look further into the question of how much the arrangement is costing to be certain to respond within the requirements of confidentiality of commercial interests. We will respond within the recommended time frame under the Freedom of Information Act of 20 days.

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