Public-sector managers voice reservations about Labour

The Independent asks 100 senior figures what they expect under a new government
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Trusts

Fear of further structural change in the National Health Service is the biggest worry expressed by trust chief executives about an incoming Labour government - after their concerns about the tight financial situation the NHS currently faces.

Of the 20 contacted by The Independent, eight pleaded for a period of stability, three feared that Labour would prove centralising and dogmatic and four were worried that aspirations would be too high and too little would be achieved.

Chief executives remain worried about the pressures on NHS budgets - spending on hospital and community health services is rising by only 0.3 per cent this year. But the majority - 16 of the 20 - expected resources to remain broadly the same in real terms under a Labour government. Only three expected Labour to be more generous overall than the Conservatives have been.

Their biggest fear, however, was that Labour would go too far in attempting to reform the Government's NHS reforms. Despite their reservations, a majority - 12 - hoped for a change. One who feared that expectations on both pay and resources for the NHS would be stoked up but saw little hope of Labour delivering real extra resources still said the time had come for change: "Anybody but this lot."

Social services

Social services directors expect to face serious and continuing funding pressures under Labour - but they were the most enthusiastic of those to whom The Independent spoke about a Labour government.

Only one in ten believed Labour would deliver more real resources, but none thought life would get worse and four out of ten believed services would improve. They feared, however, that spending in their sector would be squeezed by education and health. Robin Sequira, director of social services in Dorset, predicted that: "The demand and pressure on the public purse will be just as strongly applied as it is now."

Directors, who have many low paid staff, were divided three ways on whether the election of a Labour government would produce higher pay demands, although about half expected that to happen. But there was considerable support for a minimum wage.

Despite the pressures on their budgets, measures to reduce unemployment were the first choice for half those interviewed.

Schools

Financial pressures topped the list of concerns for schools. Few had high hopes of extra funding from Labour. The school maintenance backlog, the need for new building and worries about current expenditure were repeatedly cited by heads as a major concern, but only eight out of 20 grant-maintained heads predicted any real rise in resources. Local authority education directors were little or no more hopeful, beyond the specific pledge to restrict infant class sizes to 30.

Heads of grant-maintained schools were most worried about a change of government, fearing loss of independence. Michael Griffiths, of Deacon School in Peterborough, said: "I hope that they will move forward, build on the success of grant-maintained schools and not fight a retrospective agenda."

Asked if they wanted a change of government, half the heads of grant- maintained schools said no - the most among the groups. As one put it: "Better the devil you know".

Headteachers were evenly divided over whether pay demands would increase under Labour - but few believed they would be more sympathetic to teachers' pay than the Tories.

Universities

University vice-chancellors were the most disillusioned and disaffected group. Eighteen out of twenty complained of a chronic shortage of funding and the same proportion saw student tuition fees as inevitable. "Higher education is not high on the agenda for either party," Professor Peter Butterworth, pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Surrey, said.

Four believed Labour would inject more money into education, but that it would go into primary and secondary schools. Only two thought funding would improve at all levels. After a 30 per cent cut in funding per student in real terms over the past six years, the highest hope of most vice-chancellors was that Labour would halt the decline.

Half the vice-chancellors believed Labour would make little difference, but despite that there was a groundswell of support, though not a majority, for a change. Only two directly favoured the Tories continuing. Eight wanted change.

Academic pay was also a major concern, with strong pressure for higher pay predicted under Labour. Professor Evelyn Ebsworth, vice-chancellor of Durham, said: "University staff are frighteningly underpaid - a tube driver's pay corresponds to that of our senior lecturers."

TECS

Even though training and enterprise councils get most of their funds from the Government, they had fewer concerns about budgetary pressures than other parts of the public sectors. Nearly half thought resources might rise in real terms given Labour's emphasis on training.

Rather, their main concern was continuity. Several expressed fears that an incoming Labour government might either downgrade their role or weaken their link with local private-sector businesses.

There was some interest in Labour's plans for devolution in England. John Forkin, director of strategy in South Derbyshire, said: "They seem keen on regionalisation and I would support that, but the power flow must be from Whitehall to regions, not from the towns to regions."

Most of the TEC leaders, perhaps because of their status mid-way between the private and public sectors, were careful to stress their political neutrality. But one said: "I've voted Tory all my life and they treated me very well in the eighties. But this present government is utterly sterile. The freshness of Labour must do wonders."

Housing

Housing directors have one clear, shining hope of Labour: the phased release of accumulated receipts from the sale of council houses to fund new investment in housing. Ian Senior of Stockton-on-Tees borough council said: "We haven't built any new houses for many years. Housing associations can not provide all the houses needed." A majority of the housing directors cited lack of investment as the greatest pressure.

The fear that housing is not a high priority for Labour compared to health and education was fairly widespread. Charlie Adams, chief executive of the Hyde Housing Association in south-east London, said he did not think the first few years under Labour would be comfortable for the housing associations.

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