Gina Davidson: It’s rock or hard place for council

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JEREMY Corbyn will not be happy with the officials of Edinburgh City Council.

Privatisation of council services – or out-sourcing to use the mealy-mouthed word accountants believe won’t scare the horses – is back on the table after a similar proposal was kicked into touch five years ago.

The idea is that in getting rid of 2000 staff and handing over the repairs and maintenance of schools, community centres, depots and other facilities the council will save £141 million over the next four years (which is more than double the £67m worth of savings being talked about as needed by 2018 back in May).

However because it’s Labour and SNP at the helm it makes the likelihood of these proposals put forward by deputy chief executive Alistair Maclean highly unlikely to ever come to fruition. Last time they came up Labour in opposition refused to back them and the SNP, which was in coalition with the Liberal Democrats, eventually came to the same conclusion.

All of which means that if you believe the council is best placed to run such services and in so doing creating direct employment for city people, the councillors’ likely refusal to back the proposal is a good thing. If you believe that the private sector could provide some of these services more efficiently – employing people more cheaply – then you’ll once again think the councillors are refusing to grasp the nettle and deal with Edinburgh’s financial problems.

The reality is the council is stuck between a rock and a hard place. It has no means to raise money given the Scottish Government’s council tax freeze yet at the same time demand for services is rising.

It is of a political hue which baulks at the idea of giving council services over to private firms yet knows that something must be done to stop robbing Peter to pay Paul.

The fudge then will be to try and make things more efficient internally – the argument being that if private sector companies think they can turn a profit providing the same services then the council must be able at least to make sure it’s not losing money. Of course that may ultimately mean compulsory redundancies – another road which politicians fear to tread. And how to do that without affecting services?

The new chief executive Andrew Kerr appears to be a man who does not shy from making the hard decisions. It was his experience in cost-cutting and over-seeing change which landed him the job. And let’s not forget he’s not shy at putting himself forward for redundancy for the good of a council – though I can’t imagine that he’ll be top of the list this time, even if Alistair Maclean may well suggest it.

At his last job in Cornwall, Kerr oversaw a massive restructure of the way the council did business; working with voluntary groups to provide library services, creating arms-length companies, trusts and other partnerships and the “out-sourcing” of public loos. If he brands changes like that here by saying they’re “co-operative” then they’ll be a sure-fire hit with the city’s Labour group and leader Andrew Burns.

All of his changes down south apparently only resulted in 250 jobs going – if he keeps it to that in Edinburgh, on a voluntary basis, it will be seen as a win-win for politicians and trade unions.

Whether it will be seen like that by the people who use and rely on services is another matter. Sometimes I long for a councillor to stand up to the Scottish Government and demand this unfair council tax freeze is lifted and let councils get on with the job they’re supposed to do: improving services and creating jobs.

Bring back tron tradition

THE Royal Mile is finally getting into the Christmas spirit this year with a light show and lots of other festive shenanigans. I wonder if it’s time to revive the old Hogmanay meeting place at The Tron?

Rolling back the years

THE Bay City Rollers, the Edinburgh group which mind-bogglingly made flared calf-length tartan turn ups a worldwide thing – and it’s not an easy look to pull off – are making a comeback. Or at least three of the originals are, the others, perhaps wisely, opting not to be rejoined in pop union.

I was never a fan, but good luck to them. They were well and truly diddled by their now deceased manager Tam Paton and their lives post-Rollers have not been easy. And no doubt there are a host of middle-aged Roller fans who will happily pay a few quid to spend an hour or so in the company of blokes who can make them feel 17 again.

Trial was just a flight of fancy

SO the trial of a new flight path by Edinburgh Airport will thankfully now finish at the end of October rather than December. There have been thousands of complaints sent to the airport and a survey conducted by local MSP Fiona Hyslop says more than 64 per cent of those who took part wanted the trial halted.

Of course it’s not the end of the story. The airport wants a new flight path – though figures of flight numbers show it’s not yet sending out as many planes as it did in 2007 so there must still be capacity in current routes. The campaigners believe it should go elsewhere – or at least pilots made to stick to the path that the airport believes they are taking.

Yet at a public meeting last week a pilot in the audience stood up and flatly contradicted airport chief executive Gordon Dewar, above, about where planes were flying and turning. They are not sticking to the prescribed route – proving the campaigners’ point that planes are going over their rural homes.

What’s also been fascinating about the trial though is the political dogfight it’s caused. Labour’s Neil Findlay secured a debate in Holyrood and chaired the public meeting. SNP MP Hannah Bardell has raised it at Westminster and Fiona Hyslop did her survey. She also praised transport minister Derek Mackay for helping end the trial (though who knows how long that position will hold given current government thinking on reducing airport taxes and expanding flights). Of course they’re all doing their jobs representing constituents – but did someone say Holyrood election?