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25 October 2011

Lib Dems and SNP posted missing as public meeting calls for halt to privatisation

A packed public meeting called by UNISON at Edinburgh University last night called for a halt to massive privatisation and poured scorn on the council administration’s failure to consult the public.

As the council decision to sell-off waste collection and street cleaning looms on Thursday 27 October, UNISON’s Peter Hunter urged people to contact their Lib Dem and SNP councillors and demand that they ‘listen to the people”, as well as demonstrating outside the council at 8.30 that day. He also signalled that the union may take legal action against the council’s failure to consult.

Exposing the administration’s ‘secret’ Mori poll, Peter slammed the administration’s labelling of genuine public concerns as ‘myths’ and ‘information gaps’. The fact that consultation would only happen after the privatisation decision was taken was ‘disgraceful’. Peter demolished the flawed process, the false comparators and the failed contracts across the country. (see briefing)

He revealed council plans, in breach of the government PPP protocol, to allow private companies to close the pension scheme to new employees – an unfair advantage over the in-house bid but also a threat to the whole pension scheme. The privatisation contracts last between seven and 12 years, so the Lothian pension scheme is “staring at a slow and lingering death”.

He challenged Cllr Cameron Rose whether the other councils in the pension fund had been consulted on this and urged him to take this up in his role on the pension fund.

The meeting was ably and entertainingly chaired by Evening News columnist Martin Hannan who is an SNP activist and ex UNISON steward. It heard a detailed briefing from Peter Hunter but was denied the chance to question the ruling coalition as both Lib Dem and SNP leaders pulled out at the last minute.

However, Labour’s Andrew Burns did attend and told the meeting that privatisation was “At the wrong time, for the wrong reasons and the wrong decision”.

It was the wrong time when it was only 29 weeks to the next election yet the administration was committing any future council to contracts that would run for at least seven, and perhaps 12 years. The real place to consult the people was at the ballot box, especially since neither the Lib Dems or the SNP made any mention of massive privatisation in their manifestos.

The reasons, cutting expenditure, were wrong because there were other ways of doing that. The difference between the in-house and privatised bid was only £3million. There were other ways of saving that in a budget of £1 billion if there was the ‘political will’, especially when the council was committing to paying £15.3 million a year for 30 years for the trams.

Andrew said he, like many councillors, came into politics to try to make things better for people. “I didn’t stand (as a councillor) to be just a manager of contracts”, he said.

Somewhat courageously, Tory leader Jeremy Balfour also attended to defend his support for the privatisation plans. He claimed they would save jobs and save money. He conceded that the plans would affect everyone and he was also critical of the failure to engage with the public.

The audience then weighed in with question after question. Nick Gardner from Greater Leith Against the Cuts asked probing questions about the environment contracts.

He was backed by bin men who underlined that they had had wages cut already by up to 30% being ‘softened up’ for privatisation. One stressed they took pride in doing their best for the people of Edinburgh as a public service and questioned what would happen when the main motive was profit rather than service.

UNISON’s Kirsten Hey won huge applause when she spoke of the disastrous result of privatisation in the NHS.

Speaker after speaker praised UNISON’s role in campaigning and exposing the council’s plans to the people of Edinburgh.

For further information www.unison-edinburgh.org.uk/citynotforsale

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