Headlines: February 25th, 2002

The Scottish Labour Party conference has voted in favour of policy documents proposing greater use of private finance in public sector projects, despite opposition from unions. The documents set out proposals to increase private sector involvement in schools, hospitals and local authorities. The three unions representing public service staff, UNISON. GMB and the T&GWU all voted against the proposals.Union oppositition to PFI is based not only on a belief that companies should not be allowed to make a profit from public services, but also on the conviction that PFI leads to privatization which creates a two tier workforce. Contracts for delivering public services awarded to private contracts have been used to drive down employees’ pay and conditions, such as pension rights.The protection of employee rights is thought to be the key issue which is delaying publication of the review of Best Value headed by local government Minister Nick Raynsford and launched last Autumn. The TUC want to ensure that when staff transfer to a private company they continue to receive the same pay and conditions as colleagues who remain in public service. The CBI are concerned that this all embracing approach could place undue constraints on companies.The Best Value review was originally scheduled for publication in January so that proposals could be implemented in the next round which starts in April. To allow a major recommendation to be implemented quickly it was announced on 14 February that the requirement to review all functions within 5 years will be removed. This now allows authorities to concentrate on thematic reviews around the most important or needy services. There is no indication when the results of the Raynsford review will be published.