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The BBC's Jonty Bloom
"Although Union and its members helped to re-elect Labour, Stephen Byers got a rough reception"
 real 56k

The BBC's political correspondent Guto Harri
"Something has gone seriously sour"
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Tuesday, 19 June, 2001, 14:27 GMT 15:27 UK
Byers heckled at union conference
Hospital ward
Unison is set to oppose part-privatisation of public services
Government minister Stephen Byers was heckled while making a speech on privatisation at the annual conference for Unison, the UK's public sector union.

Mr Byers, the newly appointed Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, told Unison members in Brighton that the government planned to invest an additional 50bn in public services over the next three years.

Stephen Byers, Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions
Stephen Byers: 'Virtually every public service engages private partners'
"In the real world virtually every public service engages private partners," said Mr Byers.

"What matters is the quality and value of the services on offer.

"We are not about to embark on the wholesale privatisation of our essential public services."

Certain Unison members booed sections of Mr Byers' speech and there was loud applause when he said that some people were dogmatically attached to the notion of public ownership.

Intervention

Unison's President Adrian Dilworth had to intervene twice to ask delegates not to interrupt Mr Byers.

He stressed that Unison wanted to engage in proper debate with the government about the future of public services and urged delegates to treat Mr Byers with respect.

At its conference, Unison, which has about 1.3 million members, will discuss a series of motions that are hostile to Labour's plans to increase the use of the private sector in public services.

During the general election campaign last month, Prime Minister Tony Blair said "no barriers, no dogma, no vested interests" would stand in his way to reform public services.

'Last chance'

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, had warned earlier that the second Labour term in government was the "last chance" to ward off privatisation.

He also said any move to privatise members' jobs would be blocked.

Bill Morris, general secretary, TGWU
Mr Morris is not convinced privatisation will work
"We contest the idea that there is a wealth of private sector managerial expertise out there that will turn around failing services," he said.

"It is simply not true. Our experience of privatisation of public services is that it leads to less innovative management."

Bill Morris, leader of the Transport and General Workers' Union has also said that he is not convinced that a partnership with the private sector would deliver efficient public services.

However, during his speech, Mr Byers said the government wanted its investment to drive "radical reform" in public services and he called for "vigorous innovation" in which customers were always put first.

Dissatisfied in local government

A survey of 4,500 local authority workers by Unison, released on Tuesday, showed that two-thirds of public sector employees considered quitting their jobs last year.

Dissatisfaction over low pay and feeling undervalued were two of the reasons for this.

Workers also felt that their workload and pressure to deliver had increased in the last year.

"Staff working for local councils are doing a good job and want to do even better," said Unison's head of local government Malcolm Wing.

"But cutting their pay and threatening them with privatisation is not the answer."

The dissatisfied employees included social workers, planning officers, housing staff and leisure employees.

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