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Thursday, 3 October, 2002, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Blair spells out public service push
Tony Blair in his news conference
Blair joked about Blackpool's 'Riviera' climate
Tony Blair's ministers have the "bit between their teeth" as they prepare to step up the drive to reform public services, the prime minister has said.

He was speaking as Labour's conference in Blackpool drew to a close after a largely successful week for the party leadership.

The meeting ended with chairman Charles Clarke urging delegates to prepare for the challenges of a major round of elections next year.

There is a real sense right across government of having the bit between our teeth

Tony Blair

Mr Blair, meanwhile, used his monthly televised news conference - held in the town - to spell out the message that he wants bold action on reform.

The prime minister's domestic emphasis during conference week has been on the need to speed up reform in public services - even if it causes rows within Labour.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme if he had found his "second wind" as prime minister, Mr Blair said his agenda was now a lot clearer.

He pointed as public service reform, overhauling the criminal justice system and putting the UK at the centre of Europe.

Attack

"There is a real sense right across government of, in a sense, having the bit between our teeth and wanting to get on with it now."

In the conference hall at Blackpool's Winter Gardens, Mr Clarke said delegates could work for real change as they campaign for elections next May.


Politics can and does make change. Politics is an honourable way of making change happen

Charles Clarke
Labour chairman
"Politics can and does make change," he said. "Politics is an honourable way of making change happen."

Mr Clarke also used his speech to launch a fresh attack on the Conservatives, whom he accused of being deceitful in their talk of helping the vulnerable.

He echoed the words of former US President Bill Clinton, who set the conference alight with a speech on Wednesday.

"The rhetoric is compassionate, the reality is Conservatism," Mr Clarke said.

At his news conference, Mr Blair was tackled on his plans for public services.

Rift denied

He denied that plans for new "foundation hospitals", where managers at top performing NHS trusts would have more freedom, would create a two-tier health service.

Health Secretary Alan Milburn has rejected suggestions he is involved in a rift with Chancellor Gordon Brown over whether such hospitals should be able to borrow money on the open market.

Delegates round off the week
Mr Blair said such details remained unresolved but denied there was a conflict of principles.

"We are trying to iron them out ... they are not really issues of ideology at all, they are issues of practicality.

"The end product is what is important."

The week has seen Mr Blair refuse to back down in the face of trade union disquiet over using private money in public services.

Inflation risk

And he took a firm line against possible strike action.

Countryside march
Rural affairs are not neglected, says Blair
The government would not accept the Fire Brigade Union's demands for a straight near 40% pay rise.

"We would have rampant wage inflation and the net result would be that people's mortgages would go up, he said. "We cannot do that."

He praised the excellent work done by firefighters but said they should submit their claims to an independent review instead of resorting to strike action.

'Utterly unnecessary'

The day after London's second Tube strike in a week, Mr Blair also urged rail union leaders to call off plans for further walk-outs.

"The strike in London is totally and utterly unnecessary," he said, stressing it would have no affect on the way the Underground was run.

"It has no justification whatever on any objective basis.

"I hope the union leadership will realise it has no support among the public at large."

As well as addressing the Iraq situation, Mr Blair also said he was sorry for the debacle over A-level marking, but insisted the number of students affected was smaller than widely reported.

Secure

Mr Blair was asked about hints from Treasury aides that the UK might have to revise down its predictions for economic growth in the coming years.


We are listening and we want to work with the farming industry to do it but some of these problems are tough

Tony Blair
The forecast figures would not be announced until November, said Mr Blair, but the government's spending plans were "absolutely secure".

He also denied claims that the government was doing nothing to ease the plight of the UK's rural communities.

"There are real issues, issues to do with the collapse in world commodity prices, issues to do with agriculture that are affecting virtually every agricultural industry right around the world," he said.

"So we are listening and we want to work with the farming industry to do it but some of these problems are tough."


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03 Oct 02 | Politics
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