‘Big Society’ acts against Edinburgh privatisation says blog

UNISON ActiveThe real ‘big society’ has taken hold in Edinburgh as citizens take things into their own hands by organising public meetings against £1billion privatisation plans, reports the UNISON Active blog.

In the absence of consultation by the Lib Dem/SNP coalition on Scotland’s biggest ever council privatisation project, UNISON held a public meeting in June. 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, communities have shown what the real ‘big society’ is by setting up their own local meetings to demand answers

UNISON and Unite are backing up the meetings with practical support, speakers, and a hustings on 15 August to give the public a chance to question candidates in the Central ward by election.

Packed meetings organised by residents at Meadowbank took councillors to task. Residents in the Southhouse area have called a meeting for 11 August, with another coming up in Leith and more 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”, said lead UNISON negotiator Kevin Duguid.

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 rejected expert advice to include equality, human rights and environmental obligations in the formal contract advert. They didn’t want to “deter market interest”.

“But it gets worse. Four of the original bidders had been fined for illegal price rigging in public contracts and fatal accident convictions were concealed. 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.”