Council ‘faces legal row’ if privatisation bid rejected

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Council chiefs have warned councillors that rejecting plans to privatise a series of key services could leave the council open to a legal challenge.

The Evening News revealed yesterday that the SNP group on the council is preparing to split from its coalition partners and block plans to outsource services, including bin collections, street cleaning and ground maintenance, to private firm Enterprise.

But it emerged today that council officials, who have already spent more than £3 million on the wider “alternative business models” programme, have told councillors that voting against the proposal could lead to Enterprise launching a court challenge as it could argue its bid was “best value” when compared to the in-house bid.

City leaders also today insisted that the coalition between the Liberal Democrats and SNP remains strong, despite the latest apparent split.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group, which was set to back calls to reject the Enterprise bid and pursue the in-house alternative, dismissed the legal threat.

He said: “I do not believe it is correct that a legal challenge, if it comes, would have a chance of success because this is a political environment and bidders must be aware that a decision will be made by councillors.”

Enterprise’s proposals would see a minimum of £51.4m of savings over the seven-year contract, possibly rising to £72m, while the in-house alternative would save £45m.

Peter Hunter, Unison’s regional organiser, said: “I would think it is appropriate for councillors to look at all of that and look at what provides best value, not just about financial. It is a legitimate political decision for councillors to make.”

Cllr Cardownie insisted that his SNP group’s coalition with the Lib Dems, who have supported the “alternative business models” process, will not be threatened by the split.

He said: “The Liberal Democrats are an independent party, just like us, and they will have to make up their minds on how they approach this.”

He added: “There are bound to be differences in opinion on different matters and this may be one of them.”

The Lib Dems had not made their position known ahead of today’s meeting – where a decision was expected by early evening. However, sources have indicated that some councillors have concerns about information that has only just arisen and may call for any decision to be postponed.

Meanwhile, security at the City Chambers was being beefed up today amid indications that ultra-left groups may attempt to occupy the historic building in protest to the plans after warnings were posted online.

Dave Anderson, director of city development at the council, said: “It is important that there should be an opportunity for peaceful protest and we shall aim to accommodate this in such a way as to ensure that the business of the council is not disrupted and the safety of members of the public is not compromised.”

mblackley@edinburghnews.com

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