Council bosses ordered to boost staff communication

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The national spending watchdog has ordered city chiefs to improve communications with staff and provide more information to councillors on plans to privatise a series of services.

Audit Scotland has expressed a series of concerns about the city council’s “alternative business models” programme, which could see a batch of council services – including street cleaning, bin collections, road maintenance and catering – handed to the private sector.

It also suggested the savings may not be as large as the council has estimated, at between £9 million and £27m a year.

Councillors are due to make a final decision about whether to press ahead with the privatisation of three different major contracts later this month.

But the critical Audit Scotland report has warned that more needs to be done to ensure that councillors have the correct information to make an informed decision. Trade union leaders, who have campaigned against the proposals under the banner “Our City’s Not For Sale”, say that the report confirms what they have been arguing for some time.

John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of Unison, said: “We have been saying all along that elected members do not know what they are voting for. They are very poorly briefed. We have members at work as normal and the first they know of what is going on is a private company coming in to look at their jobs.”

The three main groupings of services that could be privatised represented £91.5m of council spending in 2010/11 – nearly one tenth of the council’s revenue budget.

The biggest area is environmental services, which represents £37.5m of spending and includes refuse collection, street cleaning, road maintenance and ground maintenance.

Also likely to be sold is “integrated facilities management”, including building maintenance, catering, cleaners, janitors and porters, and “corporate and transactional services”, including revenue and benefits, human resources and payroll.

The Audit Scotland report said that communications, especially with staff, have been “less effective than desired”, and that decision makers have “not been well-informed”.

It also warned that partnerships with the private sector might not bring the levels of savings predicted.

Mr Stevenson said: “Savings have no empirical evidence behind them; they are projected savings. What if the private companies do not deliver?”

A city council spokeswoman said: “This report is a review of the programme from February 2009. A further independent review in November 2010 highlighted that good progress has been made.”

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