Comment: Privatisation is not wrong in itself

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like a Christmas present whose magic begins to wear off by the end of January, the appeal of the city’s veto on privatisation may prove to be largely superficial.

There is a noble principle behind the idea of resisting bringing in commercial contractors to run public services in the Capital. The Labour-SNP coalition running the council want to protect the pay and conditions of the people they employ and fear will be cut, in the long-term at least, if their jobs are transferred to a private firm.

That of course is what tends to happen under privatisation.

No-one wants to see working people end up worse off but there is a difficulty in the city council trying to drive up pay and conditions for the Capital’s workforce on its own.

The big question is what will be the cost to the people of Edinburgh as a whole of maintaining better deals for all the city council’s staff? It is not just the council’s building management and maintenance staff whose pay and conditions are being protected by yesterday’s decision, but all 20,000 across the board, as it reinforces the council’s ideological opposition to privatisation.

The biggest immediate concern is the writing off of the anticipated £17.7 million savings over the next four years by rejecting the proposed privatisation of the building maintenance department. That is money that could have been spent on schools, care homes and leisure centres, but will instead go towards preserving the council’s in-house building maintenance team.

The other upshot of course is the certainty now of compulsory redundancies of one kind or another.

Everyone knows of instances where privatisation has been a disaster for services users, with quality going down the pan. But for every instance like this there are examples of undeniable success. Privatisation is not wrong in itself, it is only wrong if it is badly managed.

Whether it is right or wrong in this particular instance, the Labour-SNP coalition are wrong to reject it out of hand. They have done so no doubt out of principle, but also with at least one eye on the upcoming elections at Holyrood next May and for the City Chambers the year after. That may be good politics, but it is wrong for the city.

The danger is that in order to balance its books the council is forced into making even more unpallatable decisions than the one which faced them yesterday.