Date Tues 16 August 2011
Lively hustings demands consultation on privatisation
The public attending a lively hustings for candidates
in the Edinburgh Central Ward by election to be
held on Thursday 18 August, made it clear to candidates
from all parties that they were demanding full consultation
before any decisions on privatising Edinburgh's
As with previous public meetings, there was anger
at the scale of the Council administration's plans
and the fact that few people had known anything
Lib Dem Charles Dundas and the SNP's Alasdair Rankine
insisted no final decisions had been made but UNISON's
Kevin Duguid was unconvinced. While both said there
would be consultation before a final decision, Kevin
was unable to get them to commit to voting against
the plans if the consultation didn't happen.
Labour's Ricky Henderson opposed the privatisation
and called on it to be stopped. The best consultation,
he said, would be putting the plans to the electorate
at next year's elections
Melanie Main for the Green Party also called for
a halt to the plans. Independent John Carson drew
parallels with the trams, claiming the council could
not be trusted to be competent with big contracts.
Conservative Iain McGill, while backing privatisation
in gereral, also said there had not been adequate
Ricky Henderson was standing in for Labour candidate
Karen Doran who had broken her ankle while out campaigning
and Charles Dundas was standing in for the Lib Dem
candidate Alistair Hodgson.
UNISON Branch President John Stevenson outlined
the union's concerns at the start of the meeting
in the City Chambers.
"The joint unions have called this hustings
as Edinburgh is on the verge of the biggest privatisation
of council services ever seen in Scotland",
"The council is about to vote on a £1 billion
privatisation that will affect almost every one
of our services and up to 4,000 jobs in Edinburgh.
In what they call Alternative Business Models (ABM),
private companies will run everything from street
cleaning to housing benefit. Your city is, indeed,
up for sale.
"These are huge contracts. One covers infrastructure,
such as janitors, cleaning and facilities management.
Another is for corporate services, including human
resources and finance functions, for all departments.
The third covers environmental health, including
"While we hear much about the trams issue,
these plans will dwarf the trams and have the potential
to be far more costly to the people of Edinburgh.
"Now, the politicians here will shortly be
telling you what their views are, so I ask you to
indulge the unions for a moment in saying what we
"We believe the history of privatisation tells
us all we need to know - poor quality services,
dirty schools and hospitals, neglect of the elderly,
hospital infections, job losses, cuts to pay, conditions,
safety and pensions to name but a few.
"We believe your taxes should be spent on
services pure and simple, not on profits or dividends
"There is an obvious question: If councils
provide services without having to make a profit
or pay shareholders, how can somebody provide the
same service, at the same quality, and make a profit
"'Efficiency' is the answer we're told. Apart
from the obvious question, 'have you ever phoned
a company like BT and been astonished by their efficiency?'
we believe it is a smokescreen for destroying valuable
jobs and cutting conditions, while lavishing money
on directors and shareholders.
"Councillors were sold on privatisation by
consultants with fantastic talks of efficiencies
in English "benchmark" councils - none, by the way,
anything like Edinburgh. But many "benchmarks" savings
were projections rather than hard cash. There was
no hard evidence.
The council claim privatisation will save money
but the business case is not available for the public
to see. No disrespect, but if you are like me, you
like to see these things for yourself - or you get
"And as for private contractors carrying the
risk, well after what we've seen of PFI, nobody
believes that nowadays. These companies get a golden
goose and become too big to challenge or too big
to fail. The tail wags the dog.
"But what if they do fail? What if they fail
like Connaught - one of the early bidders which
actually passed the Council's financial tests just
before it went bust - or like Southern Cross, leaving
thousands of vulnerable people in limbo?
"If the companies profit, they line their
pockets with our taxes. But if they fail, we, the
taxpayers, will have to pick up the tab. Now that's
something there is actual hard evidence for.
"We believe that public services should be
under local democratic control. You should be able
to have your say on your services by contacting
your councillor. No point if privatisation goes
through, there won't be much they can do. They no
longer run the services, they just hand out contracts.
"If we need to change the way services work
at the moment, it is just a matter of the council
making the decision. Under privatisation it could
mean months of delay and loads of our money being
paid out while lawyers argue about what is actually
in the contracts and what isn't.
"So, you will hardly recognise many council
services after privatisation yet there has been
no public consultation on these unprecedented plans.
It is also worth remembering that not one of the
political parties mentioned wholesale privatisation
in their manifestos when they were standing for
"And there are many other worrying parts of
this process. At the beginning of the process, the
council rejected expert advice to include equality,
human rights and environmental obligations in the
formal contract advert. They didn't want to "deter
"The council has not engaged disabled people
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.
"And it gets worse. The final shortlist includes
two companies connected to multi-million pound fines
for price-rigging in public service contracts. Two
companies were allowed to take part in the privatisation
process despite the fact the council caught them
withholding information about convictions arising
from fatal workplace accidents. One company was
caught, reprimanded and caught again within the
space of a few months. And still they were allowed
to stay in the bidding process.
"All very worrying. All in a process that
seems to be hurtling ahead on roller skates.
"But there is an alternative.
"Each of Edinburgh's privatisation projects
is being shadowed by in-house options. Unlike the
secret private bids, the in-house bids are open
and transparent and deliver real savings. We believe
they are streets ahead on price, quality and risk
"It's worth remembering that Edinburgh's services
have won at least 10 awards in the last year.
"The unions are saying it is time for the
Council to abandon this wasteful adventure and get
back to focussing on delivering efficient services
with its own staff. But whether you agree with the
unions or not on privatisation, you surely have
the right to be consulted on such a massive change
that will affect everybody.
" Surely no decisions should be made until
the people of Edinburgh have had their say. And
until they've had their say directly with their
elected councillors - not through some market research
as if the plan was for a new Mars Bar wrapper instead
of a multi-million pound privatisation.
"At UNISON's first public meeting at the end
of June, people were hungry for information on the
privatisation plans which betrayed just how much
they were in the dark about the scale of the sell-off
and the dark side of the tendering process.
"We hear much about the 'big society'. Well,
I'll tell you what the real 'big society' is. The
'big society' is communities across Edinburgh taking
things into their own hands in the last few weeks
and setting up public meetings to call councillors
to account on privatisation. UNISON has been proud
to support these meetings.
Judging by those meetings, we are looking forward
to a very lively debate tonight."
For further information www.unison-edinburgh.org.uk/citynotforsale
to Our City's Not For Sale