Published: 26/09/2002, Volume II2, No. 5824 Page 7

Enemies of the private finance initiative should forge local alliances with community organisations in order to make the most of successes in 'technical arguments' with the government, a union conference heard last week.

National officer for PFI policy at Unison Margie Jaffe told the Unison policy conference PFI: Failing Our Future that local coalitions 'are proving very powerful in getting the message across to a wider audience'.

She said: 'We have won so many of the technical arguments with the government, so how can we move to the kill?'

But former Labour Party deputy leader Lord Hattersley said campaigners needed to more clearly define their 'enemies'.

'We have not played this game as rough as we should have done, ' said Lord Hattersley.

'To win the battle, you need to have an enemy. The enemy is those people who advise the government to move to PFI and companies who build hospitals and then when things go wrong go whining to the government for more money.' He added: 'I do believe that those who are active in the Labour Party ought to start agitating. There is too much letting MPs cosy up to government policy.

'Too many MPs have gone along with everything the government has said.'

Lord Hattersley rejected the view of some delegates that it was time to start looking at national strike action against PFI.

He said: 'There has got to be an understanding that we are protecting services. Our argument is that privatisation is not providing what's best for the public.'

And NHS Consultants' Association president Dr Peter Fisher told the conference: 'The question about PFIs is do they make out-and-out privatisation easier and more likely in the future?

'The answer has to be, they do. If by 2008 we do not have a health service that can be compared to anywhere else in the world, the sharks will be gathering.'

He strongly supported the principle of a broadly based anti-PFI coalition and said his organisation would want to get involved.

Last week, chancellor Gordon Brown turned down a call from the three big unions - Unison, the GMB and the Transport and General Workers Union - for a moratorium on PFI pending an independent inquiry into the scheme's value for money.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis told the conference that the union wanted the debate it had asked for 'for so long'. He added: 'Treasury refuses to talk about it and That is why we have no alternative but to move to the Labour Party conference.'

Institute for Public Policy Research director Matthew Taylor said: 'The government has made the mistake of making PFI a monoculture - the only form of money available.'

And Lord Hattersley said that when asked for a moratorium, the chancellor had responded that he was not prepared to deny the country a hospital: 'The idea that PFI provides something that can't be provided in a different way is nonsense... We need to expose the shortcomings of their doctrine, dogma and unthinking assertions.'