Council services: ‘Politicians will throw out Privatisation II’

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In a week in which the city council finally settled a long-running grievance with some of its lowest-paid workers, another battle looms.

But, unlike the row about equal pay for female employees, the debate over “privatisation” of services is about conflicting opinion rather than a clear case of right and wrong.

A report today covers two possible areas for out-sourcing work currently done in-house at the council.

Officials have recommended that councillors hand over to the private sector the work done by the likes of school janitors, cooks and cleaners.

They say privatising “integrated facilities management” services will save at least £51.5m – £13.5m more than could be expected in-house.

A second “alternative business model” plan, to save up to £69m by putting back-office work like HR and IT into private hands, has been recommended for rejection.

Privatisation is a tricky and emotive issue and the usual clarion voices will be raised in protest at the facilities plan, especially from the trades unions. They might as well save their breath.

There is next to no chance that either out-sourcing scheme will go ahead, despite the prospect of multi-million pound savings.

After all, a plan to out-source environmental services such as bin collections was chucked out by councillors last month, even though it seemed a no-brainer, given that it would have saved up to £72m.

The decision was a purely political one. With a local election in May, the SNP in particular did not want to be seen to be privatising jobs.

As so often in recent years, the Nationalists were the most deft political movers on this issue. And the smart money will be on all parties, other than the Tories, joining them to throw out Privatisation Mark II.

That would be smart politics, after all. But whoever does win in May will have to find other ways to make much-needed savings – or look again at out-sourcing services.

The “real” rector

we wish Peter McColl good luck in his new role as rector at Edinburgh University.

He has big shoes to fill, following the likes of Lord Kitchener, Winston Churchill and Gordon Brown.

Those are famous names, and even more recent rectors, including a journalist and MSP, have had a degree of recognition. So the election of an unknown charity worker will have surprised many.

But Peter was elected on a strong anti-fees platform and that shows the priorities of today’s students. Clearly he’s no Boris Johnson . . . and that may be no bad thing.