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Sunday, 9 September, 2001, 10:38 GMT 11:38 UK
Unions ready for private sector row
Union leaders are preparing to attack the Labour government over private involvement in public sector provision at this week's TUC conference in Brighton.

Public sector union Unison dismissed the government's approach to bring in private contractors to run schools and new surgical units in hospitals as a "cul-de-sac".

Trade unions will debate the question of funding for the Labour Party during a conference likely to provide some uncomfortable moments for Tony Blair.

We already know millions are being milked out of the system

Dave Prentis
This year's TUC President, the Transport and General Workers' Union leader Bill Morris, is also squaring up for a fight with the government over its treatment of asylum seekers.

Trade unions were warned during the general election they would have to accept private contractors moving into public service work.

Have your say The TUC was told it would not be allowed to stand in the way of the Private Finance Initiative (PFI).

Lost investment

It has provoked the biggest political row between Mr Blair and the unions since Labour was first elected.

The leader of the GMB, John Edmonds, said union members, like the public, were not prepared to see clinical and medical services in the NHS being run for profit.

The GMB released figures suggesting 24,000 hospital construction jobs could go as a result of lost investment due to PFI.

We don't say private good public bad

Charles Clarke
Labour Party Chairman
The union worked out that the 3bn it believes private companies will make out of PFI could have paid for 30 new hospitals, creating 75,000 posts for hospital staff besides the 24,000 jobs for construction workers.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the influential and huge public sector union Unison, said the government was heading down a "cul-de-sac" over PFI and public-private partnerships (PPPs).

He said the union's experience of 20 years of private sector involvement in public services was a tale of failure.

'Enormous profits'

Speaking on BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme, he said: "Our experience is they lead to less responsive services, less accountable services, lead to fragmentation and you do not get value for money."

He also condemned the "enormous profits" already being extracted by private sector companies with highly-paid executives.

"We already know millions are being milked out of the system."

When Mr Blair addresses the conference on Tuesday he is likely to come face-to-face with union hostility.

But Mr Prentis offered some scraps of comfort for the Prime Minister, indicating that whatever the disagreements the union and the party shared a "joint agenda".

Joint agenda

"We don't feel out of step with the Labour government.

"We have a great deal in common with the Labour government. We have a joint agenda to improve public services."

Labour's unelected chairman Charles Clarke defended private sector involvement, pointing to PFI hospitals finished ahead of schedule.

He denied that parts of the UK's infrastructure had declined to third world standards.

'Decades of underinvestment'

Mr Clarke said: "We had decades of underinvestment in key public services which we have to put right.

"We don't say private good public bad anymore that it is sensible to say private bad public good.

"What we say is pragmatically, what is the best way private or public of delivering a higher quality of public service."

And Labour may receive some support from another important union.

Sir Ken Jackson, the head of the engineering union AEEU, told the BBC that he supported the government's aim of improving public services.

Sir Ken has warned that thousands of construction jobs could be at risk if the unions block all PFI hospital construction projects.

Sir Ken Jackson will be appearing on a BBC News Online live webcast at 1100BST to answer your questions about the privatisation row. And at 1815BST Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt will answer your questions in another live webcast from the TUC in Brighton. Send your questions in using the form below.


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Disclaimer: The BBC will use as many of your comments as possible but we cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published. The BBC reserves the right to edit comments that are published.
The BBC's Jo Coburn
"The TUC stage is set"
The BBC's Jonty Bloom
talks to Steve Pickering of the GMB Union

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See also:

07 Sep 01 | Politics
06 Sep 01 | Business
03 Sep 01 | ppp
23 Aug 01 | Politics
16 Jul 01 | Politics
09 Sep 01 | Business
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