Unions to protest at privatisation of public services

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Indy Politics

Tony Blair is facing a summer of discontent as union leaders revolt over moves to increase private-sector involvement in public services.

The onslaught will culminate in a protest rally at the Labour conference organised by three of the largest public-service unions ­ Unison, the Transport and General Workers' Union and the GMB.

The unions, which have a combined membership of nearly 3 million, have booked their first-ever joint fringe meeting under the banner Keep Public Services Public, in a move that will ensure the issue dominates debate on the conference floor. The development has echoes of the campaign to link pensions with earnings which led to a humiliating conference defeat for the Government last year.

TUC leaders will discuss calls for a cross-union campaign against widespread privatisation today. A paper drawn up for the council's executive argues that there is little evidence that the widespread transfer of public services to private companies would improve services.

The strongest signs yet of union unease at Labour proposals came yesterday when Stephen Byers, the new Secretary of State for Transport and the Regions, was booed by delegates to Unison's annual conference in Brighton when he referred to relationships between the public and private sectors.

Union leaders are determined to ensure that Mr Blair's pledge to increase the role of the private sector will not lead to widespread contracting out of public services.

Ministers are also likely to come under fire over public services next month when the T&G holds its national conference in Brighton. Bill Morris, the union's general secretary, has already expressed his opposition to those who believe that services can only be delivered efficiently through partnership with private firms.

Yesterday Mr Byers insisted there would be no wholesale privatisation of public services, but he said the Government was determined to drive through radical reform. "We are not about to embark on the wholesale privatisation of our essential public services," he said. "But we do believe that it is right to consider the part that the private sector can play in delivering high-quality public services."