City faces legal questions over privatisation move

TRADE union leaders have accused city council chiefs of a potential breach of the law over claims they failed to consult with the public “in any meaningful way” ahead of this week’s decision on the privatisation of council services.

Unison claimed the local authority may have breached legislation by putting off public meetings until after a decision has been made on Thursday.

The claims came as both the ruling Liberal Democrat and SNP parties sparked outrage by pulling out of a packed public debate last night. The council’s top privatisation official also pulled out at the last minute due to illness.

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Members of the public and council staff expressed anger that they had not been consulted on the potential privatisation of thousands of jobs.

On Thursday, councillors are expected to approve recommendations that the major environmental health and bin collection contract be handed to private facilities firm Enterprise.

Nick Gardner, of the Greater Leith Against Cuts group, said: “There has been no consultation at all with the community about a decision which is going to affect every one of us.”

Audience member Luke Henderson added: “The three stands of consultation, by law, that this council is obliged to undertake have been failures.”

The environment contract is the first of three major areas which could be privatised in the months to come.

Labour leader Andrew Burns has proposed postponing the decision until after the council elections next May. He said: “I think this is the wrong time to make this decision.

“We are being asked to make a decision that would bind the council to a contract of a minimum of seven years.

“I think if you stopped 50 people on the street and tell them your council’s about to privatise 3000 jobs, 95 per cent wouldn’t have a clue, because there’s not been any proper dialogue.”

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Tory leader Jeremy Balfour said: “This is the most important decision the council will make in its five-year term so I am deeply disappointed the Lib Dems and SNP are not here.”

Unison’s regional organiser Peter Hunter, a lawyer, said: “As you have seen here tonight, Edinburgh City Council have offered no meaningful consultation with the public, and have postponed much of the consultation until after the decision, which we believe could be a breach of the consultation act.”

He added: “In discussing this [the privatisation] with council officials, their defence was that the people’s views of privatisation were misguided and out of date. I think that’s fundamentally wrong.

“The council might not like what the people have to say, but the council must let people speak, and they must let the people decide.”