Union launches campaign to keep services in public sector

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A TRADE union today launched a campaign to fight plans to sell off public services across the city that would hit up to 3,000 staff.

Unison branded the plans as "reckless". Its campaign – "Our City's Not For Sale" – will attempt to expose the dangers of the process by linking up with other trade unions, community groups and the public.

The radical move by the council will be the biggest ever shake-up of its kind in Edinburgh and could see services including bin collections, street cleaning and school meals taken over within 18 months.

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The plans took another step forward yesterday, with councillors agreeing to appoint external advisers to draw up more details on "alternative business models".

Council chiefs have estimated the process could provide 10-30 per cent savings on current costs.

While the council has said that outsourcing for some of the areas could include strategic partnerships with private firms or joint ventures, Unison say that the process will see services privatised.

Agnes Petkevicius, Unison's Edinburgh branch secretary, said: "Unison's own studies have revealed that, at best, council claims about savings are wishful thinking. No credible evidence exists to support them.

"Worse still, the evidence that does exist points to failures, worse services, increased costs and huge bills to bring failed services back in-house. To go ahead with this, in an exercise likely to top 1 million wasted on consultants, without learning the lessons of the social care tendering fiasco is nothing short of reckless."

The Unison campaign was set to be launched today in Princes Street Gardens. John Stevenson, president of Unison's Edinburgh branch, said: "If services are delivered in-house with no need to make a profit, how can they be delivered more cheaply while making a profit on top?

"Something has to give and that is usually the quality of the service or indeed the whole service – along with any decency in pay and conditions."

The shake-up comes as separate proposals are under way to cut costs across the council.

Council chiefs admitted earlier this year that they would have to reduce the total number of posts by 700 by early in the new financial year, starting next month.

The council estimated that natural wastage, reducing overtime and ending temporary contracts would mean it could have to make up to 230 of its staff redundant.

However, it emerged today that the "at risk" figure has now dropped to 130 as a result of further recruitment controls and take-up of voluntary unpaid leave and reduced hours schemes.

But opposition councillors fear that outsourcing services will have an impact on services and staff conditions.

Councillor Andrew Burns, leader of the Labour group on the city council, said: "We have great concerns about the impact on jobs and services, and also the council's ability to manage this process."

Council chief executive Tom Aitchison was given approval yesterday to appoint external advisers to support the review programme.

Council leader Jenny Dawe said: "Proposals would only be progressed if benefits are identified.

"We remain committed to working constructively with the trade unions and staff to explore, evaluate and inform all options."