Coalition row erupts after private deal bid is delayed

An anti-privatisation protester outside City Chambers.
An anti-privatisation protester outside City Chambers.
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A MAJOR row has erupted between the two political groups running the Capital after plans to privatise a series of council services were put on hold.

The Liberal Democrat group has formally written to its SNP partners to invoke a formal “conflict resolution procedure” after the groups clashed over whether to go ahead with outsourcing a series of environmental services – including bin collections and street cleaning – to private firm Enterprise.

SNP group leader Steve Cardownie told the Evening News earlier this week that his group would reject the Enterprise bid and instead favour an “in-house” alternative.

A final decision was put on hold yesterday after SNP councillors reluctantly agreed to back a Lib Dem motion asking for another four weeks to analyse information on the bid.

Councillor Cardownie said he “understood” the Lib Dem position because some of the information was only presented on Tuesday. But he then insisted that “the SNP position is that we prefer the terms of the public sector comparator”.

Just hours after the stormy meeting in the City Chambers, Lib Dem secretary Paul Edie sent a strongly-worded e-mail to SNP secretary Deidre Brock, formally invoking the “conflict resolution procedure”.

In the e-mail, he said: “The Lib Dem Group have unanimously expressed their concern at the remarks made by Steve Cardownie both in the Evening News [on Wednesday], which clearly breach the coalition agreement, and also at his remarks at council today regarding the reasons for continuing the decision, which the Lib Dem Group feel were designed to get him out of a hole and humiliate us in the process.

“I feel that we have achieved a great deal in partnership over the last four years and it would be great shame if this were to come to an end prematurely.”

Leaders of the two groups are now to arrange a crunch meeting to thrash out the issue.

The future of the privatisation issue remains unclear but council officials – who recommended the Enterprise bid – could now bring more information to light about whether the “public sector comparator”, which would save the council £45 million over seven years compared with at least £51m and up to £72m from the Enterprise offer, is realistic.

Cllr Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, insisted the Enterprise bid is “the right offer for the city”.

However, Cllr Cardownie said: “We have made our decision and I can’t see anything coming to light in the next four weeks that will change that.”

Labour and Green councillors had earlier called for immediate approval of the in-house bid, while the Conservatives favoured the Enterprise option.

Move to restore confidence in repair cases

Extra measures are to be put in place for statutory repairs cases.

A motion by the Liberal Democrat/SNP administration on the controversial service, where there have been allegations of corruption, fraud and incompetence that are still being investigated, called for more information to be shared with owners on work being carried out.

After the motion was unanimously approved, Cllr Phil Wheeler, the city’s finance leader, said: “We would hope that this will start to restore confidence.”