DEPUTY council leader Steve Cardownie today insisted his SNP group had not performed a U-turn when they decided to oppose privatisation of the city’s bin collections and street cleaning.
The SNP’s stance is threatening to end the party’s coalition with the Liberal Democrats, which has run the city for four and a half years.
But today Councillor Cardownie said it was always known the two parties would have to come to their own view on whether to go ahead with proposals to outsource key services to the private sector.
The leadership of the two groups are currently trying to arrange a formal meeting to discuss the future of the coalition after the Lib Dems invoked the conflict resolution procedure laid down in their partnership deal.
It requires a meeting between two senior SNP councillors and three senior Lib Dems.
Cllr Cardownie said the SNP side would be himself and deputy group leader Rob Munn.
He said: “This is the first time the procedure has been invoked, but it’s all set down. It’s just a case of getting a mutually convenient date.”
The plans to bring in a private firm to run environmental services, including refuse collection, street cleaning and ground maintenance, were thrown into disarray last week when the SNP decided to reject the recommendation of officials to select a company called Enterprise as the preferred bidder and instead favour an “in-house” alternative.
Officials said the Enterprise bid would mean savings of at least £51 million and up to £72m compared with a £45m saving in-house.
Hours after a stormy meeting of the full council, which agreed to put the plans on hold, Lib Dem secretary Paul Edie sent a strongly-worded e-mail to the SNP group accusing Cllr Cardownie of breaching the coalition agreement.
But today Cllr Cardownie said: “The SNP has gone along with the process, but the process was always going to culminate in a decision made by the two groups. This is why I’m perturbed about the accusation of a U-turn.
“We still believe we were right to go through the review and test what the private sector would do with the service.
“But everyone, including the bidders, always knew it was going to end in a decision made by the relevant groups and then by the full council.
“We took a whole number of factors into account and made our decision. But it was not a U-turn.”
He said the SNP group had not yet decided its position on two further batches of services proposed for privatisation – janitors, cleaning and facilities management, and corporate services, including human resources and finance functions. “Each one will be looked at and decided on its merits,” he said.
But he insisted he wanted the coalition to continue. He said: “We entered into this coalition on the basis it was for the full term of the administration and that is still our desire.”
Meanwhile, Enterprise said it remained confident its bid offered the best outcome.
Operations director Alasdair Slessor said: “Our proposal consistently scored as the best to deliver value and efficiency to the people of Edinburgh. We are confident our bid will stand up to any further scrutiny.”