Outrage as Blair attacks public sector

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The Independent Online
TONY BLAIR provoked outrage among trade union leaders last night after he attacked the Old Labour culture which he said still persisted throughout the public sector.

The Prime Minister offended the unions by telling a City audience that he bore "scars on my back" after two years of trying to force change on the public sector. Despite last night's controversy, an unrepentant Mr Blair will today hit back at the British Medical Association's criticism of the Government over the NHS and accuse the doctors' leaders of being out of touch with patients and acting like a trade union.

Mr Blair's remarks yesterday were made in an unscripted part of his speech, allying New Labour with radical risk takers and entrepreneurs. He said: "One of the things I would like to do, as well as stimulating more entrepreneurship in the private sector, is to get a bit of it in the public sector as well. People in the public sector are more rooted in the concept that if `it's always been done this way, it must always be done this way' than any group I have ever come across."

Union leaders last night claimed Mr Blair was making "unfair sweeping generalisations" in his criticism of the public sector workers. "I know he is under pressure and perhaps under a bit of stress himself but I do think it's unfair. Our people bear the scars - low pay, long hours - and they have had massive changes," said Rodney Bickerstaffe, the general secretary of Unison, the public sector workers union.

Senior Government insiders said last night that the offensive was part of a strategy by Downing Street to get a grip of the domestic agenda after setbacks in the European elections and damaging speculation of internal division. One senior source said Peter Mandelson's hand was behind the strategy. "It is classic Mandelson stuff. You create conflict to get your own agenda in the papers," he said.

As the Government launched a White Paper setting out targets for cutting deaths from cancer and heart disease, anger at the long hours and poor pay suffered by junior doctors spilled over again at the BMA's annual conference in Belfast. Representatives backed overwhelmingly plans to ballot the country's 35,000 junior doctors on industrial action if negotiations with the health department fail.

Mr Blair will today defend the use of private finance for NHS hospitals - also under attack by doctors - with a side-swipe at the BMA, telling the doctors that the challenge is to embrace change and move ahead with modernisation rather than retreating into a position of opposition to change.

"The BMA like any trade union is there to represent the interests of its members," the Prime Minister will say. "The Government is here to govern for all the people." And he will warn against falling into ideological opposition to the Private Finance Initiative.

Targets set in the white paper, Saving Lives, are aimed at Britain's most deprived areas, narrowing the health gap between rich and poor and propose spending pounds 2m in training the public to use 400 defibrillators in public places to revive heart attack victims - a move attacked as "dangerous" by the Tory health spokesman, Liam Fox, a former GP.

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