Should the Capital’s bin collection be privatised?

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As the bins crisis rages on debate is once again openening up on whether we should privatise bin collections in Edinburgh.



Leader of the Conservative group on the city council

Managing change is challenging. Waste collection changes introduced last month are proving problematic. For sure it is a big task, but it is a bread-and-butter service for householders. Understandable teething problems, with missed collections and overflowing bins, are developing into another reputation problem for our capital city. What is behind it?

In brief, the changes relate to the introduction of new routes and, for 160,000 residences, fortnightly collections. The gradual introduction of food waste collections is also under way.

But the background is instructive. In the three years up to March this year, the council under an SNP/Lib Dem administration invested more than £4 million in a process inviting companies to bid for three streams of council services. One included waste collection. The council officers strongly recommended councillors accept the bid which included waste collection. Experience in other councils was very promising and the savings on offer were over £10m each year for seven years.

The majority of these savings were contractually underpinned and were based on different working efficiencies, investment by the external company in modern equipment plus a guaranteed range of other benefits.

At the last minute, the SNP group withdrew its support and the £4m-plus had been spent to no benefit. Additionally, the projected savings and benefits were lost.

Council managers were then instructed to make savings in waste management – around £4m per year – and the current changes include those efficiencies. A sum amounting to millions of pounds was set aside to invest in making the changes happen.

The present problems come after the end of a two-and-a-half-year dispute involving the council’s refuse collectors which ended in November last year. Over that period, there were changes in gradings and wage rates, largely brought on the council by legal requirements. I understand current difficulties include a small number of staff who appear to have been reluctant to support the new arrangements.

Doubtless, outsourcing to another firm would have had teething problems. However, fortnightly collections and route efficiencies should now be saving the taxpayer, and if collections every two weeks are to be acceptable there must be certainty of collection. But it is increasingly looking as if the current service to the public is both more expensive and worse.



President of Unison’s City

of Edinburgh branch

Attempts to put privatisation back on the agenda in Edinburgh show just how ideologically wedded some

folk are to it, despite the costly evidence of failure.

The facts don’t seem to be enough. A bidder in Edinburgh’s ditched privatisation plans was fined £250,000 in East Midlands for failures. Its contract in Ealing is in crisis. Tory Somerset is having to bring some of the £500 million Southwest One contract back in-house. As Unison predicted, a costly legal case is now following. The NHS disasters are well known. The list goes on.

The Private Finance Initiative has cost us billions more than if the public sector had built the facilities themselves. That is our money.

Then there’s the human cost, with staff such as care workers sold on as contracts change, doing the same job, often for less money, while someone else rakes it in at their – and our – expense.

So if these facts don’t deflect the blind ideology that worships privatisation, maybe former Thatcher minister William Waldegrave will help. He warned Conservatives in the press in July to never “make the mistake of falling in love with free enterprise”.

He added that those who believe “private companies are always more efficient than the public service have never worked in real private


A vibrant and responsible private sector innovates, makes things and creates wealth. A private sector that parasitically scoops up public services creates nothing. It won’t build us out of the recession. It just transfers our taxes into their pockets.

Yet there remains a culture among some politicians and parts of the council that continues to push privatisation at every turn.

There is political strength in the new Labour/SNP coalition. Does it also have the political will to tackle these privatisation evangelists?

Instead of spending millions of our money on privatisation adventures, we need to work together, making in-house services deliver for the people of Edinburgh. You can’t do that looking over your shoulder for the next wasteful round of bidding.