Lib Dem rebel awaits fate after vote on privatisation

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A MEMBER of the Liberal Democrat group running the city in coalition with the SNP could face disciplinary action after voting against colleagues on a key issue.

Councillor Gary Peacock, who is still hoping to be selected by his group to seek re-election to the Craigentinny/Duddingston ward in May, sided with opponents to help a Lib Dem proposal to privatise a series of council services be rejected.

The Lib Dems sided with the Conservatives to vote to outsource services including bin collections and street cleaning to private firm Enterprise – but their coalition partners in the SNP voted with the Labour and Green groups to ensure that the services remained “in-house”, a move which could lead to another dispute.

Councillors rarely vote against the line of their party and Tory councillor Kate Mackenzie was suspended by her group in 2007 when she voted against it in a tram debate.

It is the second time Cllr Peacock has voted against his party, but the previous time in 2007 was for a much less controversial issue about the Royal Commonwealth Pool.

During the meeting at the City Chambers, he said: “I do believe that core public services such as this should be kept in the public sector and I believe the report, and the further information we have received in the last month, allows us to do that with greater confidence.

“I fully accept the view of my Liberal Democrat colleagues and I try to be loyal but I have to say this is an issue in which I take a different view.”

Afterwards, he said: “It was very difficult indeed. I do not like going against the group but, on this issue, I feel very strongly. It is for the group to decide if they will take disciplinary action but I did not take this decision lightly.”

Lib Dem councillors will decide whether to take action and the decision could potentially affect Cllr Peacoclk’s bid to be reselected to fight for his ward in the May elections.

But council leader Jenny Dawe said he did not deserve to be suspended. She said: “He gave us advance warning and we do not have a whip. If he had not told us then yes there would be censure but that is unlikely to happen in these circumstances.”

The decision by the SNP to vote for the in-house alternative with Labour and the Greens is certain to cause a further rift with some members of the Lib Dem group.

Last month, a formal “dispute resolution” process was launched between the groups amid concerns by Lib Dem councillors about the way the SNP made its position known and comments made in the City Chambers.

Councillor Dawe said that the decision would lead to “horrendous” ramifications including the “impossible” decision of how to find £4 million of cuts by February 2012 to replace the savings that would have been made from handing the contract to Enterprise.