The Trades Union Congress in Blackpool: Civil service market tests 'are biased'

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CIVIL service unions claimed yesterday that the Government's 'market testing' proposals were deliberately biased towards the private sector, writes Martin Whitfield.

More than 400 functions and services are to be subjected to the exercise in one of the largest privatisation programmes. Private companies are being invited to bid against civil servants in virtually every government department before a decision is taken on whether to contract out.

But Elizabeth Symons, general secretary of the Association of First Division Civil Servants, said Treasury instructions to department heads made clear that the private sector was to be preferred.

Areas to be market tested range from the Department of the Environment's endangered species group to the the Inland Revenue's computer section. Clive Brooke, general secretary of the Inland Revenue Staff Federation, said that would be a 10-year contract worth pounds 250m a year. 'The risks to confidentiality from this piece of political dogma are immense. Accountants are worried that the civil service tradition of absolute confidence will be lost, while companies are worried their affairs could be handled by a rival.'

Civil service unions believe that up to 50,000 jobs are threatened by market testing.