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Friday, 1 February, 2002, 17:22 GMT
Don't blame it all on us - Blunkett
A railway station during the recent rail strikes
Rail strikes are not the government's fault - Blunkett
Home Secretary David Blunkett has urged the public not to automatically blame the government every time things go wrong.

Amid mounting criticism over public services, Mr Blunkett made the appeal as Labour's local government and women's conference opened in Cardiff.

Labour hopes to use the conference to focus on investment and reform in public services, as well as discussing ways of boosting the number of women MPs.

John Prescott
John Prescott will defend PPP investments
But shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin accused Mr Blunkett of trying to abdicate responsibility for the public services: "The Government wants to have its cake and eat it."

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott used his conference speech to defend public private partnerships - a controversial issue within the party - as a way of investing in public services.

Mr Prescott defended the tight spending choices taken in 1997 to 1999, saying that the economic fundamentals had to be put in place before stepping up spending on public services.

Earlier Mr Blunkett said the government was unfairly blamed for problems in some cases, such as the recent rail strikes that have caused turmoil for train passengers.

The public should instead target its anger at those directly responsible such troubles and save criticism of the ministers for issues over which they have responsibility, he said.

'Social entrepreneurs'

Mr Blunkett said the "worst of all worlds" for ministers was having responsibility without power.

The home secretary also promoted the concept of "social entrepreneurs", an idea also trumpeted by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

David Blunkett
Blunkett: Government needs to empower local people
That means encouraging people to take on leadership and responsibility at a more local level, said Mr Blunkett.

He argued that people on the ground who have the capacity to drive change should be given the money to do so.

Such moves are not evidence of ministers trying to "wash their hands" of responsibility, rather an example of a more "on your side".

Influence message

Those comments are likely to draw fire from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, both of whom have accused the government of centralising too much political power.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has also indicated union laws should be reviewed in the wake of the spate of rail strikes.

Rail, Maritime and Transport Union assistant general secretary Bob Crowe has suggested Labour MPs failing to support the rail strikes should lose union funding.

The issue of political parties funding has also been raised by the Enron affair.

Ahead of the conference, Labour chairman Charles Clarke had a firm message on that issue.

"The one thing which I want to be absolutely clear about is that if anybody thinks that by giving money to the Labour Party they are able to influence a policy outcome, whether it is the RMT or anybody else, that is not the case," he said.

The issue of women shortlists is also on the conference agenda now new laws mean they can be used legally.

The practice was used to select Labour candidates before the 1997 general election before it fell foul of an industrial tribunal ruling.

Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin attacked Mr Blunkett's comments saying the government "clearly wants to take the credit for everything that goes right and take no blame when things go wrong".

He added: "Yes, there are limits to what government can achieve, but they cannot escape responsibility for the way in which public services are run.

"The Government is even more responsible when its interference with an organisation like the police service prevents that organisation from carrying out its role effectively.

"If the Government genuinely believes - and wants other people to believe - that it is not responsible for the performance of public services, why was it so keen to leap to the defence of its public service record in a case like that of Rose Addis?"

The BBC's Robin Chrystal
"Labour is making clear its efforts are focusing on the public services"
Home Secretary David Blunkett
"We've got to find a balance"
Labour Party Chairman Charles Clarke
"We need to look at the complexitites of how services are delivered"
See also:

01 Feb 02 | UK Politics
29 Jan 02 | UK Politics
21 Dec 01 | UK Politics
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