ANDREW BURNS, the leader of the Labour group on the City of Edinburgh Council, calls on the SNP/Lib Dem administration to abandon plans for the privatisation of public services in the city 

 

Back in February 2009, nearly two years after they took control of the local council, the SNP/Lib-Dem Coalition that runs Edinburgh approved a budget that included the decision to look at the potential privatisation of essential front-line services.

The main opposition, Labour Group on the Council opposed that budget, and have continued to oppose the privatisation plans ever since. The Green group on the council has done likewise. Sadly, from my perspective, the SNP and the Lib-Dems (with Conservative support) have pursued the proposals for over two years now, spending some £3.6million in the process.

The scale of the proposals is breathtaking – some 20 council Services, aggregated into three groups, affecting almost 4,000 council staff.  All to be outsourced to the private sector. Large swathes of the City of Edinburgh Council were basically being put up for sale.

The private firms bidding to run these services will look to profit by streamlining them and finding efficiencies. That’s basically code for putting employees out of work.

In parallel to the consultation with private companies, the council has been tasked with looking at an in-house alternative, achieving improvements with less funding, making efficiency savings as well as a thorough a shake-up of staff and departments. Nowhere near £3.6million has been spent on this side of the equation and it was obvious to anyone who cared to look what the preferred outcome was.

But frankly, I doubt if hardly anyone outside the Council in Edinburgh knows that their local authority is potentially about to privatise nearly a quarter of its public services.

That’s because there has been virtually zero consultation with Edinburgh residents. And in a last-gasp attempt to rectify this appalling omission, in  August 2011, the council commissioned an Ipsos-Mori poll of Edinburgh opinion on the proposals, but to date neither the questions nor the answers have been published in full.

It’s a disgrace that the SNP/Lib-Dem Council hasn’t properly consulted on these proposal that could have a fundamental impact on the day-to-day services on which we all depend.

And worse than their lack of proper consultation is the fact that they are now trying to ram these decisions through the council with only six months left until the next local government elections. The subsequent contracts are a minimum of seven years in length and would bind the whole five year life of the next council, never mind the remaining six months of this one.

The whole saga has been an affront to local democracy.

The first of the three groups; Environmental Services, was up before the main council for decision at the end of last month, with Facilities Management Services to be decided upon this month, and Corporate and Transactional services being decided upon in December.

Thankfully, in no small part due to a truly excellent campaign led by Unison Edinburgh, the SNP/Lib-Dem coalition took cold feet on the 27th October and delayed a final decision on Environmental Services until the November meeting.

Labour, and I’m sure the Greens, remain resolutely opposed to these plans and we’ll do our best to vote them down again.. If just one of the local SNP/Lib-Dem coalition groups joined us, the drive to privatise our vital public services would be dead in the water.

I hope, even at this late hour, that they see sense and join us and help safeguard 1000s of essential jobs in Edinburgh’s vital public services.

Andrew Burns is a City of Edinburgh councillor for Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart and is the Labour group leader on the council. He blogs at www.andrewburns.blogspot.com.