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Fears over health and education jobs

ASSURANCES have been sought over the future of a global firm believed to employ dozens of workers in the health and education sectors locally.

Interserve, which employs around 75,000 people worldwide, is involved with over 40 Private Finance Initiative (PFI) projects across the UK, including providing facility management (FM) services at the South West Acute Hospital and both the Omagh and Dungannon campuses of South West College.

These services include mechanical and electrical maintenance, estates management, grounds maintenance and utilities management.

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According to a report on the BBC, the price of shares in Interserve have collapsed in the last year and it is now seeking a rescue deal.

Details of the plan, which it said it expected to announce early next year, are yet to be finalised.

But Interserve have insisted that the fundamentals of its business “remain strong”.

In a recent statement, the company said that the UK Cabinet Office had expressed “full support” for the work it was doing to implement a long-term recovery plan.

Both the Western Health Trust and the South West College confirmed that they were monitoring developments at the struggling firm.
They say that measures are in place to ensure that services will continue to be provided locally if the company collapses.

A spokesperson for SWC said, “The College PFI contract is with Belfast Educational Services (BES) and it is through BES that Interserve provide services to the Omagh and Dungannon campuses. The College has sought and received assurances from BES that adequate contingencies are in place, should things with Interserve get to a stage where service cannot be delivered.

“Interserve have also assured us that they believe the risk is being adequately mitigated against. The College has sought further information from BES on the detail of the contingencies that are/will be in place.”

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While the Western Trust provides health and social care services at the South West Acute Hospital, the building is managed and maintained by Interserve in partnership with the Northern Ireland Health Group (NIHG).

A Trust spokesperson said, “The Western Trust and NIHG continue to monitor developments within Interserve and have ‘appropriate plans’ in place to ensure that the FM [facility management] staff will continue to provide services at the South West Acute Hospital.”

Public services trade union, UNISON, said it was concerned about reports that Interserve were in “financial trouble” and called on the Western Trust and other public bodies to bring the staff affected back “in-house”.

Brian Ferguson, UNISON’s regional organiser, said that it was a “worrying time” for the hundreds of people employed by Interserve across the North.

He said, “The financial difficulties Interserve find themselves in is a warning that outsourcing of public services is not a good idea.”

Mr Ferguson added, “A large number of Interserve staff are employed in health and education. UNISON are calling on schools and colleges and the Western Trust to ensure that all staff are protected and returned to the public sector.”
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