Royal Bucks Hospital owner talks: He promises to pay up but Vale MP John Bercow DEMANDS a timeframe for payment

John Bercow
John Bercow
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The owner of the Royal Bucks Hospital has explained publicly the reasons behind the failure to pay staff in a written letter to Vale MP John Bercow.

Dr James Clarke responded to the Speaker of the House after he wrote an open letter to The Bucks Herald demanding he explain why staff had not been paid more than an estimated £350,000 in salary and redundancy packages since the hospital closed in October.

Dr Clarke wrote: “The closure of the hospital has been very difficult, especially for the staff who have not received their payments on time. During the spring and summer last year, a signed international contract, which would have secured the future of the hospital and meant the admission of 21 spinally injured patients to the Royal Bucks, was delayed.

“The political upheaval, which followed thereafter, prevented these admissions arriving. This lack of certainty meant that the business was left with no alternative but to be closed and staff made redundant. As well as putting the hospital on the market in the autumn, we have done everything possible to meet our obligations including engaging international medical investment companies and approaching numerous other potential buyers and investors.”

The owner of the grade II listed building, which is to be sold this month, denied having received any letters from the Speaker. But Mr Bercow countered in his response by enclosing copies of the letters he has sent in the past.

Dr Clarke promised lastly in the letter he would pay all staff once the sale to a rehabilitation centre is completed on February 20.

Mr Bercow responded: “I welcome your comments about the agreed sale and your immediate intention to pay former staff. A clearly defined timeframe shared with all interested parties would go some way to reassuring me and your former staff that you will be able to abide by what is at this point, essentially, a vague commitment to pay them the money they are owed.”

The speaker reiterated how ‘appallingly’ the staff have been treated and slammed Dr Clarke for explaining the hospital’s problems while offering no apology to employees.

Dr Clarke’s full letter to MP John Bercow

Dear Mr Bercow,

Re: The Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital

Firstly, we have no record of receiving any contact from you at The Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital, either verbally, or by letter, as you have claimed in your open letter to the Bucks Herald.

Importantly, the Hospital has not been sold, particularly for the price you have erroneously stated in the Bucks Herald, but a sale is agreed, with contracts to be exchanged this month. The purchasers wish to continue the business in the field of medical rehabilitation, and to build on the excellent national/international reputation, built up in this since 1994. Former employees were informed of this, by post on the 24th of January, 2013.

The closure of the hospital has been very difficult, especially for the staff who have not received their payments on time. During the spring and summer last year, a signed international contract, which would have secured the future of the hospital and meant the admission of 21 spinally injured patients to the Royal Bucks, was delayed. The political upheaval, which followed thereafter, prevented these admissions arriving.

It has to be said that if our bank, with whom we have been customers for over twenty years, had agreed to lend, even on a bridging basis, against our unencumbered property, we would not be in this situation. David Lidington, our MP, who has been extremely supportive to the Royal Bucks, also wrote to our bank in this regard. This lack of certainty meant that the business was left with no alternative but to be closed and staff made redundant. As well as putting the hospital on the market in the autumn, we have done everything possible to meet our obligations including engaging international medical investment companies and approaching numerous other potential buyers and investors.

When we took on the Royal Bucks in 1994, it had been boarded up and completely vandalised and reflected this throughout. Since then we have put considerable investment into the building and facilities, and, with an excellent team, we built up to the highest standard existing in the field of medical rehabilitation in the UK, attracting national and international patients to Aylesbury, and employing around 100 people.

Despite the considerable pain that has been caused, and which we very much regret, the majority of staff have been very supportive, and we have tried to assist staff especially financially where possible. It now possible that some of them will be able to engage with the new owners to carry out the amazing work which they did before, and return to the Royal Bucks to help to ensure it continues to be the centre of excellence it always was in the field of rehabilitation.

Most importantly, once the sale that we have agreed has been completed, our immediate task will be to pay staff and meet all of our obligations.

Yours sincerely

Dr James Clarke MB ChB

MP John Bercow’s response to Dr Clarke

Thank you for your letter of 12th February 2013 regarding the plight of your former employees at the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital. I am surprised that you have no record of correspondence from me. I enclose for your records copies of the previous correspondence I exchanged with the hospital.

Regarding the sale of the property, it is my understanding that Christie’s Retail Estate were advertising the property at £2.5 million and an interested party was advised that a corresponding sale was underway. I note that you have advised your former employees by memo that you are working towards a completion date of Wednesday 20th February.

I welcome your comments about the agreed sale and your immediate intention to pay former staff. I note what you say in the final paragraph of your letter and I trust all former staff will be paid redundancy entitlements and any salary back payments due. I hope these payments will be made as expeditiously as possible, but I would welcome a firmer indication of the timeframe in which you plan to make the payments.

My constituents have shared with me copies of previous memos detailing your various commitments to pay former staff by specific dates in December 2012 and January 2013. Several such dates passed without payment and my constituents are understandably sceptical that you will meet your obligation to pay your former staff the monies owed to them after the sale of the property. A clearly defined timeframe shared with all interested parties would go some way to reassuring me and your former staff that you will abide by what is at this point, essentially, a vague commitment to pay them the money they are owed.

To date, the dedicated former staff of the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital have been treated appallingly. These workers are relying on food banks so they and their families can survive. This is no way for people in this country to be treated and, whatever the circumstances of the business, staff everywhere have a basic right to be protected. In this context, I was disappointed that in the course of a one a half page letter detailing the hospital’s misfortunes and, by implication, your own you could not bring yourself to offer any apology to your former staff for the denial thus far of their entitlements, involving repeated broken promises.

I understand that the Unison representatives of the group of former staff I met with wrote to you on 22nd January 2013 with a view to pursuing this matter via tribunal action on behalf of their members. I have been advised that there is a 28 day window for you to respond and that a response has not yet been forthcoming. Indeed, as far as I am aware you have chosen to ignore all correspondence from Unison Bucks to date.

Naturally, it would be helpful if you would communicate progress on matters to all interested parties, including Unison, local MPs and media who have a continuing interest in this case. I would welcome a firm statement of when your former staff will be paid the full monies owed to them.

John Bercow