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:
(1) All privatised services end up providing less at more cost to the taxpayer. I cannot under any circumstances understand why anyone with a conscience would want to allow worse meals at a higher cost for schoolchildren. Keep this service within council provision. Staff providing school meals should remain council employees.
(2) Privatising procurement? Are you serious? Selling off commissioning services for a private company to provide at a profit to them is just asking us, the taxpayers, to put our hands in our pockets more deeply than ever, forever. This shouldn’t even have been on the table.
(3) and (4) both strike me as a similiar problem – privatising an essential service for local people for a private company to provide at a profit. If local people are still employed, this means they lose their current rights of service as public sector employees and become private-sector employees. If the private company running this service decides it would be more profitable to outsource it, what defence is there for us locals?
None of these options should be privatised. I hope all of you will be voting against them on Thursday.
What privatisation is always supposed to be about is saving money – but for whom? The money “saved” is effectively an austerity measure – cut public sector pay by moving public sector employees into the private sector, where their employers will cut their pay, their pensions, their working conditions, and the services they provide, thus “saving” money – but not our money. A wage paid to a public sector employee is money that mostly stays inside the local community. Profits to a huge company like MITIE go out of the local community – a net loss to us. Like opening a supermarket and ensuring the loss of a dozen local shops, this is a crazy deal even if the services could be performed at the same quality and cost, and there’s no reason to believe this is the case. For a local council to privatise essential public services is a cut, not a saving.
As 2001 Nobel Prizewinner for Economics Joseph Stiglitz said two days ago in Hong Kong, at a major economics summit:
“The answer, even though they see over and over again that austerity leads to collapse of the economy, the answer over and over [from politicians] is more austerity. It reminds me of medieval medicine. It is like blood-letting, where you took blood out of a patient because the theory was that there were bad humours. And very often, when you took the blood out, the patient got sicker. The response then was more blood-letting until the patient very nearly died. What is happening in Europe is a mutual suicide pact.”
In Edinburgh, we have temporarily escaped that suicide pact. Just an hour ago I got an email from the Greater Leith campaign:
It is our great pleasure to announce that the City of Edinburgh Council have rejected the privatisation proposals. The Alternative Business Models Programme is officially over, but the fight against cuts will continue!
We know that cutting services and cutting spending and selling off our public services to private companies is not the answer to the recession: we know it is not the kind of city, not the kind of nation, we want to live in.
The Edinburgh Reporter:
The City of Edinburgh Council today decided to keep all jobs in-house, and brought to an end the possibility of using the Alternative Business Model which it has investigated since 2009. When it was put to the vote the recommendation to use the external company, MITIE, was ruled out by 31 votes to 23. A second proposal NOT to privatise corporate and transactional services was unanimously approved without any comment. The entire process has cost the council around £3.2m over the three years since it was first proposed.
On 25th January, Alex Salmond will launch the consultation for the 2014 referendum.
On 28th January (1pm-3:30) at the community centre on Northfield Broadway, Edinburgh locals will meet again to talk about how we can move away from the cuts agenda and how we can put pressure on candidates standing for election in May.
But we also need – all of us in Scotland – to think about how we should respond to the national consultation, and what kind of Scotland we want to vote for in 2014. We need honest, open, positive debate.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.