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banner Sunday, 11 November, 2001, 17:45 GMT
Trade union warns leadership hopefuls
Bill Speirs
Bill Speirs said candidates should state their position
Trade unions in Scotland have called on those who wish to succeed Henry McLeish as Labour leader to freeze the use of private capital in public sector projects.

No one has yet declared they will put themselves forward in the race to replace Mr McLeish.

However speculation over the weekend suggests that Education Minister Jack McConnell will contest the vacant post with Wendy Alexander, the enterprise minister.

Candidates will have to declare by Tuesday 12 November, with the new Labour leader and likely first minister to be elected by Thursday 6 December.

Wendy Alexander
Wendy Alexander: Expected to stand

Trades unions have long detested the PFI schemes - now known as Private Public Partnerships - which are used for key projects like new hospitals and schools.

They claim it is putting profit before service and jeopardises staff conditions.

Now union leaders are urging Labour's next Scottish leader at the very least to freeze such schemes, perhaps for two years.

Speaking on BBC Scotland's Holyrood programme, Bill Speirs, the Scottish Trade Union Congress General Secretary, said the future leader should take note of the union's feelings on the issue.

Mr Speirs said the issue was of significant importance to trade unions as a whole.

'Scrap initiative'

He said: "I think it is legitimate to say (to the candidates) 'what would your position be?' how would you respond to the suggestion that there should be a freeze for a period on new PFI's?

"I think trade unionists would want to take into account what the candidates have to say. Personally and from the point of the STUC we want to see the scrapping of the initiative altogether."

For this contest, unions have to ballot all members - and split their votes proportionately between the candidates.

In the vote 356,000 trade unionists will make their choice, alongside 25,000 party members.

John McAllion
John McAllion: Ideological alternative

Fifty-five MSPs, 56 MPs and four MEPs complete those who will vote in the electoral college.

On the issue of the leadership race, Mr Speirs said he hoped that John McAllion would put his name forward to offer an "ideological alternative" to Mr McConnell and Ms Alexander.

Mrs Speirs said: "I think they are both competent, but it is also true that they are ideologically very close.

"That is why it is important that if John McAllion wants to run then he gets the necessary MSP support to put his name forward to the Labour electorate."

BBC's Brian Taylor reports
"Union leaders won't have the same powers as in the past"
Links to more McLeish resignation stories are at the foot of the page.

Links to more McLeish resignation stories