Blair heads for rough ride from TUC leadership

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair will face a barrage of criticism over public-service reform and the war in Iraq next week from one of Britain's most senior union leaders.

Nigel de Gruchy, the president of the Trades Union Congress, is expected to launch an attack on private-sector management, calling on companies to put their own houses in order before intervening to run Britain's public services.

In his address to the TUC conference, Mr de Gruchy will say that Tony Blair should be "sceptical about the promises made by the private sector" before allowing it to take a big role in running public services, cautioning that the public sector has guaranteed supplies, whereas the private sector is much more risky.

"It's about time the private sector put its own house in order before trying to take over the public sector," he said.

Mr de Gruchy said seminars attended by Mr Blair, union leaders and senior Downing Street staff had discussed issues such as employment rights and localised pay.

"We have been exploring these things with the Government in quiet reflection, away from the glare of publicity," he said. "There may not be light at the end of the tunnel, but at least we have found the tunnel. We are still a long way apart on some issues, but not on all, which shows that progress can be made."

Mr de Gruchy will acknowledge the progress made by the setting up of a Downing Street forum to give trade unions a role in debating public-service reform, but is expected to accuse Mr Blair of making the world more dangerous by failing to win the peace in Iraq and to lambast him for his support of private-sector firms taking a bigger role in public services.

Speaking before the conference, which starts on Monday, Mr de Gruchy said the failure of Britain and America to plan for post-war Iraq was scandalous and he warned that the war risked making the world a more dangerous place.

The TUC's annual gathering is likely to set the stage for a stormy conference season for the Prime Minister, whose Government is already reeling from the revelations in the Hutton inquiry.

But Mr Blair also faces a rough ride over a series of other controversial domestic issues, including university top-up fees and the introduction of foundation hospitals.

Mr de Gruchy, a former general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "The military action in Iraq was always going to be relatively easy. But there was a scandalous lack of thought about the peace. It was a gung-ho approach from the cowboys across the Atlantic that was responsible for failures."

He warned that the world faced increasing dangers from terrorism in the aftermath of war, arguing that "we seem to be going backwards".

He praised Mr Blair for persuading President George Bush to make progress on the Middle East peace process, although he added: "I recognise that the Prime Minister has to sup with world leaders, but perhaps he might pick a longer spoon next time."