Unions warn Blair over public services reform

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Unions warned the Prime Minister yesterday that his crusade to improve public services would be "derailed" if the private sector took a central role in reform. In a statement thrashed out yesterday after weeks of infighting, the TUC warned Tony Blair against his "combative" approach.

Mr Blair will face the anger of the union movement in Sept-ember when he will address delegates at the TUC conference in Brighton. Two weeks later he is expected to face criticism at the Labour Party's annual conference over his policy of "creeping privatisation". At the insistence of the GMB general union and the National Union of Teachers, the ruling general council of the TUC refused to back a declaration that the private sector had a legitimate role in public services.

But union leaders also refused to publish a list of "no-go" areas for the private sector. The general council was advised that such a statement could be taken to mean there were other areas where business involvement was legitimate.

Unions want to "breathe reality" into the Prime Minister's professed attachment to adopting a "partnership approach" with union leaders.John Monks, TUC general secretary, said the organisation had reached a united position on public services. "Our priority now is constructive engagement with the Government on department-by-department basis to discuss their plans in detail."

Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary said: "There is only one reason that the private sector want to push their way into public services, and that is to make a profit at the expense of patients, passengers, pupils and the workforce."

John Edmonds, the leader of the GMB said: "This statement sends a strong and united signal to the Government. Unions are prepared to sit down and discuss public-sector reform but they are not prepared to discuss public-sector privatisation."

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