Lawyers probe bid to axe Palestine firm's city offer

LEGAL experts have been asked to investigate whether a firm that works in occupied Palestine can be thrown out off the shortlist to takeover the running of council services.

A subsidiary of Seafield plant operator Veolia Environment is in the running for an environmental services contract that the council is considering outsourcing.

But the French multinational firm's work in occupied Palestinian territory - where it is building a tram line between Israel and some of its settlements - angered a number of councillors, who said it should be ejected from the alternative business models (ABM) programme.

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City leaders have now asked the council's legal team to provide a report detailing whether Veolia can legally be excluded from the process without the council ending up in court with a case it could lose.

The decision came after a lengthy debate of the issue at a meeting of the full council.

Councillor Steve Cardownie, the deputy council leader, said: "Should that report come back with evidence that is sustainable in court, it will then be for the council to make the judgement about what to do."

Local authorities in Dublin and Swansea have already decided to exclude Veolia Environment and its subsidiaries from all future council contracts because of its work building a transport link between Israel and some of its settlements in Palestine.

The company itself insists that if a "recognised international court" found that the project was against the law, it would comply with the ruling.

Sofia MacLeod, a member of the Scottish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, urged councillors to take action now.

She said: "It is no longer good enough for councillors to just express their sympathies to Palestinian people, especially when they are considering offering contracts to companies that are involved in activities that are illegal under international law."

Veoilia is one of 15 firms that have made it on to a shortlist as part of the ABM programme. Among the services that could be outsourced are bin collections, street cleaning, school meals and payroll.

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Council leaders had previously said that the whole tendering process is closely regulated by the Public Contracts (Scotland) Regulations 2006, which limits the reasons that can be given for not selecting a company.

But the decision yesterday means that legal teams at the council will now investigate whether there are grounds to reject Veolia's participation in the project because of its work in Palestine.

Green councillor Maggie Chapman tabled a joint motion with Labour councillor Angela Blacklock calling for the report.

Cllr Chapman said: "We have a responsibility to act with our conscience and an obligation to ensure our actions are morally responsible."

Tory councillors had called for no further action, with leader Jeremy Balfour saying that the obligation of councillors was to provide value for the Edinburgh taxpayer.