The scam run by council employees on the owners of Edinburgh tenement flats is still spiralling. (Part I, January.) A fifth council employee was sacked at the end of March and the Scotsman quoted an anonymous “inside source” a few days ago claiming that people aren’t paying their statutory notice bills because they didn’t know if they’d been scammed by them.
Gordon Murdie appeared as the Quantity Surveyor expert on a BBC programme in September last year, “Scotland’s Property Scandal”. (Quantity surveyors manage all costs relating to building and civil engineering projects, from the initial calculations to the final figures.) He also gave a presentation on statutory notices at the Minto Hotel, which is available online here. Murdie is the managing director of Quantus QS, a quantity surveying firm in Edinburgh. He is standing for election in Southside/Newington as an Independent, specifically on the statutory notice scandal.
“You don’t need to know” is a pernicious and provocative statement. It expresses arrogant authority: “I have the good judgement required to make my decision based on the facts. You don’t have that kind of judgement: you should just trust me.” Argue and this turns into a fight about why you are disrespecting the Authority by refusing to trust their good judgment, though the first act of disrespect was denying you the facts.
The Freedom of Information Act opens up all levels of public infomation to the public. The standard of the Freedom of Information Commissioners is that all information should be made available, with clearly specified exemptions to do with personal privacy and national security: there is a legal exemption if someone has asked for information that would be too expensive or too burdensome for a public body to provide, but they have to prove this to the Commissioner – they cannot simply tell you “too expensive, we won’t tell you”.
You don’t have to say why you want to know. You don’t have to prove “Need to know”. You don’t have to demonstrate that you have the good judgement to use the information wisely.
You are a member of the public. You want to know how a local authority or a public body arrived at a decision, or what they spent money on, or what was minuted at a meeting, or what the borrowing records are at your local libraries. The Freedom of Information Act says that wanting to know means you have a right to know.
Edinburgh Council were calling it an Alternative Business Model, but in plain English it was privatisation of public services.
The plan to privatise began two years ago, and continued with maximum discretion and minimal consultation until a small group of concerned locals and trade unions started a campaign to save our services. At two previous council meetings in 2011, the SNP had been moved from pro-privatisation to anti- and joined Labour and Green councillors to vote down the plans for privatisation.
Update: For more about the campaign, see Alyson MacDonald’s blog about it at Bright Green Scotland:
It might feel as if this doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes we win. And when we do, it’s amazing.
One interesting aspect of this was that the same man who was involved in developing the “alternative business model”, the former head of corporate property, Bill Ness, was suspended at the end of 2011 over the repairs scandal – and apparently he has since left his post. I wrote about this ten days ago as the Edinburgh tenement council tax. The investigation into that bit of dirty business is now costing the taxpayer £1.8M.
The last tranche of public services that had been slated for privatisation was to be voted on today.
I wrote to my councillors:
I see that the council is minded to privatise (1) schools meals, (2) commissioning services, (3) the Council’s helpdesk and (4) the elected members enquiry service.
To deal with them all in turn: