Monday, 1 August 2011

Edinburgh privatisation ‘worse than the trams’ say unions as communities take action

1 August 2011

Unions have warned that the fall-out from Edinburgh council’s £1billion privatisation plans could be ‘worse than the trams’, as citizens take things into their own hands by organising public meetings across the city to demand answers from the council.

The unions are backing up the meetings with a hustings on 15 August to give the public a chance to question candidates in the Central ward by-election.

Kevin Duguid, secretary of Edinburgh council’s ‘staff side’ which includes UNISON, Unite and GMB unions, said: “In the absence of any real consultation by the Lib Dem/SNP coalition on Scotland’s biggest ever council privatisation project, UNISON held a public meeting on June 27. The response was amazing with most people shocked that they had heard nothing about plans that would privatise all or part of just about every council service.

“Since then, shocked communities have shown what the real ‘big society’ is by setting up their own local meetings to demand answers.

“A packed meeting organised by residents at Meadowbank on July 27 took councillors to task, with another planned for August 2. Residents in Southhouse have also called a meeting for August 11, with reports coming in of others on the way. People are furious that wholesale privatisation of their services – mentioned by no party in their manifesto – is being pushed though without their say.

"UNISON calls on council tax payers across Edinburgh to follow the lead of Meadowbank and Southhouse - organise your own local meeting. We will support you in calling the council to account."

John Stevenson, UNISON branch president, said: “Public services need to adapt to meet our needs but there will be little flexibility in a fixed contract and private companies will charge a fortune for any changes.

“Just like the trams, we could easily end up with no services while disputes between the council and contractors drag through court. We could waste millions on lawyers' fees and – just like the trams – massive costs if the contracts fail.

“And on top of all that, the council has so far failed on key legal issues. It has not engaged disabled people in discussion about access to the new services as required by law. There has been no assessment of sustainability issues to ensure that the private companies protect the environment and develop greener ways to deliver services and reduce carbon emissions. The people of Edinburgh can’t even get to see the business case because it’s secret.”

Edinburgh Unite leader Stephen MacGregor said: “The council must put the brakes on privatisation and at least consult properly with communities. This is a massive decision that will affect Edinburgh’s services for years to come – and one that is almost certain to come back and bite the council – and it’s the council tax payer and public service worker that will pay the price.

“Our taxes should be gathered to deliver services and protect the vulnerable, not to pay profits to private companies or dividends to shareholders.”


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