Unions stuck in past, warns minister

John Hutton, the Cabinet Office minister responsible for public service reforms, criticised union demands to halt the NHS's use of the private sector and to restore the right to carry out secondary action after the Gate Gourmet dispute at Heathrow Airport. Unions have tabled motions on both issues and hope to defeat the Government at the Brighton conference, which starts tomorrow.

Mr Hutton told The Independent: "There are those who believe Britain's future lies in a return to the past. New Labour's third election victory has not prevented some in the run-up to this year's party conference from demanding an end to the approach that delivered this success. Time warp calls for the re-introduction of secondary picketing or conference motions that reflect ill-disguised ideological opposition to the modernisation of our NHS are the reactions of those who seem to have drawn none of the right conclusions from three successive general election victories."

Mr Hutton said Labour should continue the pace of reform in order to win a fourth term and it was not a time for consolidation. "It is a time to renew our ambition for the challenges that lie ahead, not to retreat into some sort of illusory safe haven where we kid ourselves that the old responses of the left should be re-applied again as if nothing had changed," he said.

He stressed that the Government's reforms were for a purpose and not being implemented for the sake of it. "World-class public service provision is not a luxury for a modern, dynamic economy. It is an essential prerequisite for a prosperous economy and a socially just, secure society," he said.

Mr Hutton said: "Expectations are rising and rightly so. The public do not live in parallel universes - one labelled the wider economy, one marked public sector. We need to keep pace with their expectations. The true test for this Labour Party in a third term is not whether we water down reform but whether we have the confidence and belief in ourselves to be as ambitious for the country as the people are for Britain."