City's £1bn privatisation 'a worse disaster than trams'

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TRADE unions have warned that the city council's £1 billion plans to privatise some of its services could be worse for the city than the tram fiasco, warning of "massive costs" and significant job losses.

Unison, Unite and GMB, three of the UK's largest trade unions, have claimed proposals to outsource key services like refuse collection and property maintenance could be disrupted if there is a repeat of the drawn-out disputes between the local authority and contractors on the city's beleaguered tram project.

Edinburgh City Council is currently consulting with firms interested in taking on the lucrative contracts.

The authority was involved in a long-running and costly dispute with German contractors Bilfinger Berger which saw work on the trams project grind to a halt.

John Stevenson, Unison branch president, warned that the council using private companies would result in very little flexibility to services, and that those firms could charge "a fortune" to any necessary changes.

He 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."

The unions will hold a hustings on August 15 to give the public a chance to question candidates in the Central ward by-election.

Kevin Duguid, secretary of Edinburgh council's 'staff side' which includes Unison, Unite and GMB unions, said that members of the public where shocked when the union revealed some of the plans at a recent meeting.

He said: "In the absence of any real consultation by the Lib Dem/SNP coalition on Scotland's biggest ever council privatisation project, Unison held a public meeting on June 27.

"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."

Mr Duguid added that proposals to privatise key services will affect around 4000 council employees and could result in many workers losing their jobs if the private firms taking over the outsourcing make cut backs.

Council leader Jenny Dawe insisted no decision on the future of the services had been made. She said: "This is, and will continue to be, an open process with the trade unions involved and consulted at every stage.

"A summary of all the business cases will form part of the report to council, and before any decisions are taken, consultation will also take place.

"This administration values enormously the excellent public services that out staff provide.

"In this financial climate it is, however, essential that we explore every opportunity to improve efficiency."