In a nationalistic speech to the Labour Party Conference yesterday, prime minister Brown made sweeping promises to improve public services.
Hardly mentioning the world capitalist crisis, he claimed the ‘stability’ of the British economy had helped it weather a ‘recent wave of financial turbulence’.
In a sop to the unions he said: ‘The Minimum Wage is going up to £5.52 next week. I want to see the Minimum Wage enforced without exception.’
Praising ‘British enterprise and flexibility’ he promised ‘British jobs for British workers’.
On education, he pledged one to one tuition for 300,000 pupils in English and in Maths and that schooling would start at three and go on until 18.
Brown said he wanted two million more home owners by 2010, and appealed to housing associations and local councils to build more homes ‘to rent or buy’.
But venting his spleen on youth, Brown announced new police powers ‘to log crimes on the spot’ and an extension of stop and search and dispersal powers.
Brown pledged to ‘restore the link between basic state pensions and average earnings’ but he did not say when.
On foreign policy, he said ‘we are good Europeans’ but he will ‘hold fast to our closest partnership with America’ and made it clear he will continue with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moving to the NHS, he said services had to be more personalised and that patients should have ‘friendly GP hours’ with private ‘walk-in centres’ and ‘medical centres at pharmacies’.
He also confirmed plans for a ‘deep-clean’ of hospitals, adding he will give ‘matrons more powers to hire contractors’ and check on standards.
A PCS trade union spokesman said: ‘He mentioned every other public service worker apart from civil servants.
‘There were a lot of words about what he wanted the government to do, but all that will be undermined because there won’t be the staff due to the civil service cuts.’
By contrast, Tony Woodley, TGWU general secretary, said: ‘The most important thing for me, it was Labour. It was a Labour prime minister talking here today Labour values.
‘Of course we could always have suggested to the prime minister the best way to keep our hospitals clean is not to contract to these contractors, but to see in-house cleaners run by matrons, as it was in yesteryear.
‘There’s always little criticisms trade union leaders can make, but this isn’t a day of criticism, this is a day when our leader made his mark and there’s absolutely no doubt that decency shone through, and I’m sure the public will notice that as we do.’
UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis said: ‘It was a speech worth waiting for – a breath of fresh air. His commitments on the NHS were loudly applauded by the UNISON delegation.’
However, Prentis, added: ‘Gordon now has to take action to deal with the issues that are between us. He could start by scrapping the markets and competition that are ruining our public services.’
On Brown’s announcement that he wants ‘family friendly’ opening hours in GP surgeries, a BMA spokesman said: ‘Many GPs would be willing to alter their hours to provide a late evening service if resources were available, but are not convinced it would be a good use of scarce NHS money.
‘The BMA also believes extending opening hours without these extra resources would be to the detriment of the majority of patients who want and require a day time service.
‘The government’s own survey has shown that the vast majority of patients (84 per cent) are completely happy with their GP.
‘In that same survey only four in a hundred patients said they wanted opening hours to be extended into the evening. Any other business would be proud of this level of success and not be trying to undermine it.’