Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Labour Big Guns Brush off Rebels; No Surrender as Unions Vote against Private Cash Policies

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Labour Big Guns Brush off Rebels; No Surrender as Unions Vote against Private Cash Policies

Article excerpt

Byline: CHARLES REISS

LABOUR today called in its resident hardmen, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and party chairman Charles Clarke, to tell the big unions there will be no surrender over moves to bring private companies into Britain's key public services.

Mr Clarke said there was "no possibility whatsoever" of bowing to demands from the unions to mount an inquiry into the Government's flagship modernisation policy, which allows private firms to help build and run hospitals, schools and key transport projects, including London's Underground.

And Mr Prescott dismissed calls for an independent inquiry or a moratorium on controversial Private Finance Initiative [PFI] projects as "fancy words for a freeze".

With Tony Blair braced for a rare defeat in the PFI vote at this afternoon's conference session there were efforts, behind the scenes, to limit the damage. The Prime Minister, at a stormy early morning meeting of the party's ruling National Executive Committee, promised to look at further moves to protect pay and conditions of workforces transferred from the public to private sector.

However, on the central issue, Mr Clarke was defiant. He declared: "There is no possibility whatsoever of the Government taking any action which would slow down in any way the massive public investment programme to which we are already committed."

That programme, ministers pointed out, involves no fewer than 60 new hospitals and hundreds of school building projects.

Gordon Brown, in his speech, declared that Labour, from top to bottom, must become the business-friendly party. Having promised at the last election that the Government would put schools and hospitals first, the Chancellor went on: "We must keep our promise to the people. It is our duty to deliver. When the plans are drawn up, the building workers are there and the money provided, the public will not tolerate delays." He won applause from many in the hall.

That money, Mr Brown stressed, could only come from private investment, not from higher government borrowing. The "no surrender"message was clearly designed to neutralisean expected conference defeat. …

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