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banner Monday, 1 October, 2001, 23:37 GMT 00:37 UK
Labour signals public service intentions
Tony Blair in Brighton
The international crisis has created a sombre conference mood
The prime minister is expected to declare his intention to push ahead with his controversial public service reform package when he addresses delegates in Brighton on Tuesday.

Mr Blair's speech will turn first to the gravity of the international situation, where he is expected to signal imminent military action against the Taleban.

A focus on the domestic agenda is due to follow, with Mr Blair refusing to shy away from the controversial issue of public service reform.

So far the international situation has overshadowed conference debate, with far less dissent from the floor than at previous conferences.

Party bosses had been eager to avoid heated debate over public services, as well as internal party reforms and the prime minister's backing for US action.

Spending battle

Mr Blair knows that the main battles over spending and the public services have only been postponed, but there were some signs of reconciliation on Monday.

The threat of a major row over public services was partly extinguished after the government pledged to review a controversial scheme under which private firms run local council services.

Unison, the country's biggest union, hailed Local Government Secretary Stephen Byers' announcement as a "major breakthrough".
Hospital operating theatre
The public service debate continues

The review of the so-called 'best value' system comes after it emerged some local government workers employed by private firms were on lower pay than council staff.

But union anger at ministers' plans to extend private sector involvement in the public services has only been temporarily stifled by the move.

'Stitched up'

As Labour's annual conference opened on Sunday, Mr Blair pledged to press on with plans to reform the NHS and other public services such as education despite opposition from union bosses.

Some unions have accused the leadership of trying to "stitch them up" over the public services debate in their selection of motions being put before the conference.

But most realise that a rebellion at this point would, at best, be futile and, at worse, could prove counterproductive.

Mr Blair will address these concerns, but will not be deflected from his aim of radical reform.

His speech will, in effect, mark the end of the conference which will formally come to a close on Wednesday lunchtime.

See also:

01 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Blair moves to war footing
01 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Brown talks tough on spending
01 Oct 01 | Labour
Labour avoids public services row
30 Sep 01 | UK Politics
Spending plans are safe - Brown
03 Sep 01 | ppp
Unions lead opposition
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