Since December 1987, when I asked health boards to re-examine the potential for competitive tendering they have been awarding contracts for catering and domestic services. By the beginning of November 39 contracts had been awarded, which will produce estimated savings over the next three years of over £14·5 million. A few more contracts are still to be awarded during this current round and thereafter boards will press ahead with further tendering.
Does my hon. Friend agree that competitive tendering in the Health Service in Scotland will help further to improve it, as indeed the Government have already done by increasing the amount of money spent in the Health Service by 30 per cent. since 1979 and increasing the number of consultants by 10 per cent. and the number of qualified nurses by 30 per cent.?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. One of the most significant aspects of the competitive tendering process, which Opposition Members used to call privatisation, is that 70 per cent. of contracts and the bulk of the savings have been achieved from in-house bids by the existing work forces looking at the way in which they provide the services, removing restrictive practices and overmanning, and seeing that every penny is directed to the interests of their patients.
Is it not an absolute scandal that more than 800 ancillary workers are being sacked by the Lothian health board to make way for private contractors? How does the Minister justify that action? Many of those women have given more than 20 years' dedicated service to the board. Is the Minister proud of the fact that they have been offered jobs inferior to those they have at present, sometimes involving less than half the number of hours that they currently work?
What was an absolute scandal was the lack of leadership shown by the trade union movement towards the people who were in that position. The trade unions refused to take part in the competitive tendering process, and in some cases the health boards had to bring in management consultants to assist the in-house work forces make their bids. The trade unions abandoned them. Despite that, many of those in-house bids were successful. As the hon. Gentleman knows, those who lost their employment because of the introduction of private contractors have in the main, as a matter of priority, been offered jobs by the private firms concerned. As the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) pointed out, they are fully entitled to any redundancy payments that may arise from their length of service.