Council chiefs to reject privatisation plans

The council are set to reject plans for privatisation.  Picture: Andrew O'Brien
The council are set to reject plans for privatisation. Picture: Andrew O'Brien
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EDINBURGH’S ruling Labour-SNP coalition is set to reject controversial privatisation plans being recommended by officials to help save £141 million from the council’s budget.

Proposals drawn up to help balance the books over the next four years include outsourcing repairs, maintenance and cleaning of council buildings such as schools, care homes, community centres and libraries, as well as cutting around 2000 posts.

Public service union Unison has already warned a decision to renege on the pledge of no compulsory redundancies will trigger a ballot on strike action.

But sources say both Labour and the SNP are almost certain to veto the privatisation plans, even if it makes compulsory redundancies more likely.

Similar outsourcing plans were abandoned three years ago when the council was run by a Liberal Democrat-SNP coalition. The scheme was opposed by the then Labour opposition and collapsed after the SNP withdrew its support.

Proposals to privatise refuse services and payroll, personnel and revenue and benefits also fell through at that time.

The latest cuts proposals
come as the council faces a financial squeeze resulting from growing demand for services and a static budget.

A report by deputy chief executive Alistair Maclean included a Plan B which avoided outsourcing, but he warned it would require redundancies and achieve less than half the savings projected for the privatisation option.

A senior coalition councillor said privatisation was the preferred option of officials, but neither Labour nor the SNP was keen on the move.

“More than likely, the coalition will opt for Plan B – retaining the work in-house, but bringing in expertise from the private sector.

“Taking on these kind of contracts from the council can only be attractive to the private sector if they think there is money to be made. If they think there is a profit there, why can’t we make it more efficient?”

Rejecting privatisation might mean abandonment of the council’s current policy of no compulsory redundancies, the councillor acknowledged.

“In any business, compulsory redundancies is a last resort. But we would not be forgiven if we cut back services in order to retain staff.”

Unison said it opposed the privatisation proposals and did not believe they would work.

Branch president John Stevenson said: “We believe public control and accountability are important, but also practically, there are few privatisations in local government that have delivered the promised savings.

“The history of privatisations in England and Wales is that the proposed savings were wishful thinking. So if privatisation is being held up as a way of avoiding compulsory redundancies, it is a flawed idea.”

Green finance spokesman Gavin Corbett said privatisation of council buildings was “a dead end”. He said: “it is deeply disappointing that the ghost of privatisation has reared its head again despite being ruled out previously [in 2010].

“The preferred model, of handing the running of council buildings over to a private contractor, still results in a shortfall of £45m over ten years and poses questions of public access, cost to users and accountability to the community in which a building sits.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com