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BBC BREAKFAST WITH FROST INTERVIEW: DAVE PRENTIS GENERAL SECRETARY, UNISON SEPTEMBER 9TH, 2001
Please note "BBC Breakfast with Frost" must be credited if any part of this transcript is used
DAVID FROST: Well now this week the gloves came off between Labour and the unions, the Trade Union Congress starting tomorrow with union bosses preparing to go into battle with the party they helped return to power. At the heart of the row is the government's plan to involve private companies in the public services. But there's also the worry that Labour has abandoned its traditional party values. In a few minutes I shall be talking to the Labour Party's Chairman, Charles Clarke, but first the General Secretary of Unison, the UK's largest union, joins me from Brighton. Dave Prentis, welcome.
DAVE PRENTIS: Morning.
DAVID FROST: Good to have you with us. What is it, what is the root of your objection to this idea of bringing private companies into the provision of core public services?
DAVE PRENTIS: Well the first thing I'd like to say that we do welcome the way the government's commitment to invest in our public services, we actually are with them when we talk about reforming our public services to improve them, but where we do part company with the government is this belief that the private companies can actually improve our public services. We've had 20 years of experience of working with private companies providing public services and our experience is that they lead to less responsive services, less accountable services, they lead to fragmentation and you do not get value for money. And if the Labour government believes it's the private companies that can drive this reform programme then they're going down the cul-de-sac and they will not deliver the goods in time for the next election.
DAVID FROST: Now do you feel that as some of the leaders do there is both teaching obviously and there is the NHS and so on, that billions, do you agree with John Edmonds, that billions will be milked out of the system to provide private company with profits?
DAVE PRENTIS: Well we already know that millions are being milked out of the system in many of the hospitals that have been built and are now run by private companies, they're making profits in excess of 20 per cent, enormous profits from these schemes and when you looked at the private companies that are providing services like cleaning services, catering services, we just have to look at the salaries that the directors of these companies are getting, over a million pounds, over 50 per cent increase in the past year, share options worth three, four million pounds given in the past year and milking the public services and they're milking the taxpayer's money which the electorate puts, into our public services and yet it's being siphoned off into private companies and I think that is wrong, the, the Labour government really do have to reassess what's happening and they do have to put the millions for improving our services and actually working with us on a joint agenda rather than having conflicts which will occur from using private companies.
DAVID FROST: Just how much common ground is there now between you and the Labour Party, I mean at your Unison conference and I quote here you voted in favour of restoring the link between pensions and earnings the nationalisation of the railways, gas, water and privatised industries. A 50 per cent tax rate on high earners, high inheritance taxes, increased stamp duty and a tax on international currency trading. Now the Labour Party is dead against all of those and they might go further and say that's why they won the last election and the last two elections. Do you feel out of step with the Labour government?
DAVE PRENTIS: We don't feel out of step with the Labour government, we do believe that there are issues between us that when you look at the last election what the electorate voted for was a party that said we will improve education, we will improve our Health Service and that is what people want and still want. And so we have a great deal in common with the Labour government, we have a joint agenda to improve our public services but we do have things where we think they, the Labour government maybe, is not reflecting its core values and many of the things that we did think that the Labour government would want to introduce since have gone by the wayside and that does concern us a little bit and that will obviously be raised at the Labour Party Conference.
DAVID FROST: And what about the, the fact that you're going to review the idea of donations to Labour, what personally do you feel about that, would you like to see some of the money channelled into other, other courses where you're getting more specific bang for your buck as it were?
DAVE PRENTIS: Well hopefully I'm a strong supporter of the link with the Labour Party, you've got to remember the link is with the Labour Party not the Labour government and what I'd like to do is seek to influence the Labour Party, seek to influence MPs, seek to influence local activists to our agenda and actually take that into the Labour Party and carry it forward. So the, I think the link is important to us actually want to change the government's approach, so I'm not one of these people that argues that we should be moving away from the Labour Party and breaking the link. And as far as campaigning for better public services and standing up for our own members, we do not have to take money away from the Labour Party, we're a very, very strong union, we have more than one a quarter million members and we do have the money available to us to campaign on their behalf and that is what we will be doing through the autumn.
DAVID FROST: You will be campaigning on their behalf?
DAVE PRENTIS: Yes.
DAVID FROST: And what about at the same time, Tony Blair is coming to the conference with this backdrop of disagreement and so on, to talk I think on Tuesday, what sort of a reception do you think he'll get?
DAVE PRENTIS: I think Tony Blair will be listened to, we, we want to know what the intent is obviously, the, I think Congress has moved away from the, from the bear garden that it may have been ten, 15 years ago, we're far more constructive in our approach to our approach. But Tony will make the right noises, he will talk about the, you know we haven't presented properly what we intended doing the, with public services and it's really good news when he does says this, that we will still have the fundamental difference between us but the, the Labour government is still intent on bringing in private companies and we are still opposed to the further involvement in private companies in providing core public services.
DAVID FROST: Dave, thank you very much indeed for joining us from Brighton, we appreciate it.
DAVE PRENTIS: Okay, it's a pleasure, thank you.
DAVID FROST: Thank you.
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