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Sunday, 3 February, 2002, 16:08 GMT
Blair takes on public service 'wreckers'
Tony Blair at Labour's annual conference in Brighton
Tony Blair will stand firm on public services policy
Tony Blair has said that the government will not back down in its drive to modernise public services.

The prime minister joined other ministers in representing this as a battle between "reformers and wreckers", in his speech at Labour's spring conference in Cardiff on Sunday.

Private investment is not value for money - do you call what we are doing resistance or telling the truth?

Dave Prentis Unison
Mr Blair argued the Conservatives wanted to run down public services to win the argument for lower public spending, while Labour would fight to reform.

Tory chairman David Davis denied his party were the wreckers, saying that they were currently looking at ways of trying to deliver better public services as the current systems were "not working".

Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy said: "If Labour had been honest about the actual cost of getting us proper health care, we would have been told at the last election that taxes will have to go up to pay for it."

Audience protests

There is considerable opposition particularly in some public sector unions to Mr Blair's plans for greater private sector involvement in the public services.

And a number of demonstrators in the auditorium where the prime minister gave his speech could be seen holding placards aloft saying 'keep public services public'.

Mr Blair acknowledged people like nurses were key to reforms
Mr Blair stopped short of calling union bosses "wreckers", but a reference to "small c conservatives" was taken to be a swipe at resistance to his policies by people on the left of Labour.

He said: "Because we are on the side of the pupil, the patient, the passenger, the victim of crime, we know we don't do that [build up public services] by leaving things as they are..."

Mr Blair insisted that his government must have the courage to reform the public services if they were to ensure the future of "collective provision" in areas such as health.

He said Labour "must be prepared to use all available means to make the improvements that patients and pupils and passengers demand".

The prime minister had warm words for public sector workers acknowledging that they were the people at the frontline of delivering reform.

But he likened his current struggle for reform with former party leader Neil Kinnock's fight to modernise Labour in the 1980s.

Union opposition

The UK's three biggest unions reacted in anger on Saturday to a speech made at the conference by Transport Secretary Stephen Byers.

As he defended the use of private investment to modernise schools and hospitals, Mr Byers also described the fight as being between reformers and wreckers.

Afterwards he indicated he thought union leaders were also among those resisting the government's agenda for reform and said he was ready to take them on.

John Edmonds
John Edmonds: No support for privatisation of public services
Speaking on Sunday Labour Party chairman Charles Clarke insisted that Mr Byers had not made a mistake and that trade union leaders such as Unison's Dave Prentis agreed with "90%" of the government's plans for reform.

Mr Prentis said the unions were "telling the truth" about the dangers of an increased role for the private sector in public services.

It was denigrating public sector workers to bring in private firms, he argued.

"The fact he may not be denigrating them verbally is irrelevant.

He added: "Private investment is not value for money. Do you call what we are doing resistance or telling the truth?"

Poll tax warning

GMB leader John Edmonds said the government's commitment to world class public services required co-operation with unions and frontline workers.

Mr Edmonds argued ministers should remember that polls suggested that only 11% of Britons supported privatisation of public services

"The highest level of support recorded for the poll tax was 14%," Mr Edmonds continued

"And as I remember, the poll tax was not a great electoral advantage to the Tory government."

The BBC's John Pienaar
"Tony Blair wants to avoid being seen as a union basher"
The BBC's Carolyn Quinn
"Reformers versus wreckers"
See also:

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03 Feb 02 | UK Politics
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