The city council’s controversial plans to privatise key services were thrown into chaos last night after the SNP rejected them.
It leaves the proposal, which would see increased involvement of the private sector in local authority tasks, in disarray
City council officials wanted to bring in private firm Enterprise to operate a range of “environmental services”, including refuse collection, street cleaning and ground maintenance.
But the SNP group on the council today announced that it will oppose the proposals.
Councillor Steve Cardownie, deputy council leader and leader of the SNP group, called for the council workforce to be given a chance to show it can make the required savings.
The SNP’s shock decision is likely to put the group at odds with its Liberal Democrat coalition partners, who have not yet announced their position but have backed the proposals throughout the process.
And the SNP councillors are expected to be supported by Labour, which has consistently opposed the “alternative business models” (ABM) process.
It means it is almost certain that the privatisation of the services will be either cancelled or at least delayed at a meeting in the City Chambers tomorrow.
The Enterprise bid would save the council a minimum of £51.4m over seven years, possibly rising to £72m, while an “in-house” bid by existing staff was estimated to save at least £45m over the same period.
Cllr Cardownie said: “We have attended various briefings on this matter and, in weighing up the two proposals, we believe the public sector comparator deserves to be tested by the workforce.”
It is estimated that the Enterprise bid could lead to 228 job losses, whereas keeping the work in-house and finding alternative savings would lead to 121 job losses.
Cllr Cardownie said: “There is less of a full-time equivalent reduction [in staff] in the public sector comparator than in the Enterprise bid so in that regard the Enterprise bid would entail shedding more jobs.
“The public sector comparator can only work if it is embraced by the workforce and I believe they would prefer to operate in the public sector.”
The SNP and Labour groups together make up 28 of the 58 councillors in the City Chambers. If the Lib Dems were to press ahead with the proposals they could expect the support of the Tories but would also need to persuade the Greens to back the plan to have any chance of pushing it through.
But it is thought that Lib Dem councillors, as well as council officials, will be furious at the SNP position as significant sums of money have already been spent on progressing the ABM programme.
John Stevenson, president of Unison in Edinburgh, said: “If they throw it all out tomorrow then we would welcome that but we would also welcome a postponement.
“If you engage people on the front line, they are the people that know how to do it more efficiently and more cheaply so we would be confident that any in-house bid would not only be a good comparator now but also likely to improve.”