Union chief warns of Milburn's 'wild ideas'

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Indy Politics

The leader of Britain's biggest union warned the Prime Minister yesterday not to let Alan Milburn, the party's new policy chief, unleash his "wild ideas'' before the general election next year.

The leader of Britain's biggest union warned the Prime Minister yesterday not to let Alan Milburn, the party's new policy chief, unleash his "wild ideas'' before the general election next year.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of the public service union Unison, said he expected Tony Blair to honour an agreement on employment rights that was thrashed out in an attempt to avoid a political bloodbath at the Labour Party's conference later this month. Mr Milburn is to help draw up Labour's manifesto for the election and the unions are worried that he will sideline them.

Speaking on the eve of the TUC assembly in Brighton at which Mr Blair will speak today, Mr Prentis revealed that leaders of the country's "Big Four" unions were demanding a series of deadlines for the introduction of concessions agreed with the Government to ensure they are delivered. They will be meeting the heads of government departments before the Labour conference to draw up a timetable for the introduction of the agreements.

The unions - Unison, Amicus, the Transport&General and the GMB - are worried that the Blairite Mr Milburn, appointed to the Cabinet in last week's reshuffle, will introduce new and undebated policies in the election manifesto.

According to his advisers, Mr Blair is to reassure union leaders in his speech that the Government will stick to its pledges made at the party's policy forum. But Mr Prentis said he hoped the new Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster would "temper some of the wild statements and ideas that he had been responsible for in the past''. The Unison leader accused Mr Milburn, the former Secretary of State for Health, of introducing the idea of foundation hospitals into government policy after he "bumped into'' such an institution on a holiday in Spain.

"Alan has to see himself as leading a team including a trade union which have a legitimate perspective and legitimate views, '' he said. The manifesto would have to be compatible with traditional party values. He warned the unions would not remain quiet if they thought the Warwick accord was not going to be honoured. "If they think we are going to keep our gobs shut for Labour, they've got another think coming.''

Tony Woodley, leader of the T&G, said foundation hospitals were an "ill-thought out experiment''. Reminding Mr Blair that trade unionists were Labour's electoral foot soldiers, he said: "We need to ensure that activists are active and that our voters come out and vote.'' He said that there was no certainty that Labour would be re-elected.

Mr Woodley said that for him the 56 commitments agreed at Warwick were "rock solid and copper bottomed. We expect them to be delivered.'' Among the concessions from the Government was the agreement that the eight bank holidays would no longer be included in the legal minimum entitlement of four weeks' holiday a year.

Mr Prentis and Mr Woodley, together with Derek Simpson of Amicus and Kevin Curran of GMB, were speaking at an unprecedented joint press conference ahead of the TUC. The briefing session was called to illustrate the fact that the Big Four were united in demanding a new direction for the Government on manufacturing public services, employment rights and pensions.

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