Unions unimpressed by Blair assurances

4 Oct 01
Union leaders warned this week that ministers had 'no mandate' to privatise the public services and urged the government to give up its 'disastrous' experiment with the private sector.

05 October 2001

Unbowed by Prime Minister Tony Blair's insistence in his keynote Labour conference speech on the credo of 'partnership with the private or voluntary sector', John Edmonds, Dave Prentis and Bill Morris, the general secretaries of the GMB, Unison and the T&G, said the unions would continue their opposition.

Blair said: 'Where the private sector can help lever in vital capital investment, where it helps raise standards… to set up some dogmatic barrier to using it is to let down the very people who most need our public services to improve.'

But at a packed 'Keep Public Services Public' fringe meeting in Brighton, dubbed 'the alternative conference' by Morris, the union leaders warned they had the public on their side and that their patience was running out.

'This government does not have a mandate to privatise the public services, it has a mandate to reform our services,' said Prentis. He called the Private Finance Initiative 'a lie and a myth' and accused the private sector of constantly 'cutting corners'.

Edmonds said that under privatisation 'the only train that runs on time is the gravy train'. He added that Blair's speech signalled 'full steam ahead' for greater involvement of the private sector in public services.

Morris said privatisation threatened the government's 'contract' with the people to provide decent services to the most vulnerable in society.

While Unison and the T&G welcomed Local Government Secretary Stephen Byers' announcement of a three-month Best Value review, and supported a compromise conference motion welcoming 'genuine dialogue', Edmonds spoke against the motion and abstained in the final vote.


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