Coalition torn apart as Lib Dems prepare to pull plug

Jenny Dawe and Steve Cardownie sign the coalition agreement in 2007

Jenny Dawe and Steve Cardownie sign the coalition agreement in 2007

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THE coalition running Edinburgh city council was today said to be on the brink of collapse.

Liberal Democrat group secretary Paul Edie said that the partnership with the SNP may have reached “the end of the road”.

His comments came after the Lib Dems announced they would start “conflict resolution” with the SNP after a fall-out over plans to privatise a series of services, including bin collections, street cleaning and ground maintenance.

Disharmony has been brewing between the two groups and that will result in a key summit – expected to take place early next week – where the future of the coalition deal will be thrashed out.

But Councillor Edie today said that the Lib Dems could withdraw from the agreement.

He said: “We have to now resolve a group position but it may well mean the end of the road for the coalition. My colleagues have been pushed almost to the brink here.

“I can’t say too much about this, but we have to have conflict resolution and it is a very serious issue. The resolve of my colleagues is fairly stiff and they are very unhappy about the conduct of council and need to speak to our colleagues about this.”

He said that the dispute was “principally about” the privatisation vote that took place on Thursday, when the SNP group agreed to a request by the Lib Dems to delay a vote into appointing private firm Enterprise for four weeks – but also insisted that they would still vote against their partners.

But tensions have been building between the two groups in recent months and the coalition had looked threatened in August when the SNP failed to come to the Lib Dems’ rescue on a key tram vote.

Their decision to abstain had meant that the line would be cut short at Haymarket – only for them to step in one week later and back the Lib Dems on a new attempt to take the line to St Andrew Square.

The formal conflict resolution process has never previously been launched in the lifetime of the coalition, which has run the city since 2007.

If the groups split, the Lib Dems would have to decide whether to run the city as a minority administration but would face not being able to get any policies approved because they would have only 16 of the city’s 58 councillors.

If they decide against a minority administration, any groups could then form a new coalition.

Cllr Steve Cardownie. leader of the SNP group, said: “We will discuss it (as a group) on Monday when we get in, but they have asked for a meeting and we will hear what they have to say.”

When asked if he felt the coalition was at risk of collapse, he said: “I’ve no idea. I will have to hear what they have to say but they have never articulated anything of that nature.

“I will meet with Jenny and see what the complaint is and see if there is any merit in their complaint.

“Since the inception of the coalition, this is the first time the procedure has been used.

“Until I get their interpretation of events I do not know how we will respond.”