Comment: Privatisation not a panacea for all issues

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the first priority of city councillors as they face up to harsh reality of severe budget cuts must be to protect frontline services.

There will be much sympathy for the city council staff who find themselves at the sharp end of the need to balance the public books.

The reality for them is that more than one in ten of the council’s staff will find themselves out of a job within four years.

The pledge from the city council and Scottish Government of no compulsory redundancies will be some comfort to the city’s 20,000 employees as they face this uncertain future. But, with savings of at least £140 million needed over the next four years, the changes ahead are sure to be painful for some.

The city has said it is determined not to simply “salami slice”, taking an even chunk off the spending of each department, but instead to look where possible at new ways of working. That is 
exactly the right thing to do.

If public services are to be protected then they need to be delivered in a more efficient way – and that inevitably will mean new working practices.

There are some who will assume that new ways of working is simply a euphemism for privatisation. That will almost certainly be the case in some instances, but not in all. If private companies can guarantee the same level of service for less public money, while still paying a decent wage to their staff, then there should be no ideological opposition to it.

Yet privatisation must not be seen as a panacea for every problem. More commercially-minded thinking within the council, greater community involvement and greater use of technology can all play their part.

The debate about how and when we tackle the national debt may still rage, but as it continues to rise towards £1.5 trillion, with interest payments alone approaching £50 billion a year, no-one denies that something radical needs to be done.