The Never-Ending Campaign Against Privatisation
When I said that an Edinburgh campaign had won the fight against the privatisation of some of our local council’s services, I may have spoken too soon. It turns out that the City of Edinburgh Council have awarded a street cleaning contract to Enterprise, the company which unsuccessfully bid for a contract to run the Environmental Services department last year.
The work had initially asked for unpaid volunteers to come forward to help with a “spring clean” by carrying out tasks like litter picking and graffiti removal (the “Big Society” in action, etc.), but when they couldn’t recruit enough volunteers, the work was offered to council street cleaners as overtime. Even though council staff were keen to take up the offer, the work was outsourced instead.
Local residents who campaigned against the privatisation of services are angry that the council have reversed their decision on using external companies for this type of work, just four months after the Enterprise bid was rejected in a full council meeting.
At a public meeting about library cuts on Monday evening, councillors were asked about the Enterprise contract, but seemed unable to provide any answers. Cllr Deirdre Brock (SNP Leith Walk) declined to answer any questions on the contract, saying she had only come prepared to speak about library issues, while Cllr Gordon Munro (Labour, Leith) claimed to be unaware of the decision, even though it was reported in the Scotsman on 23rd February.
It still isn’t clear how the decision was made to award the contract to Enterprise, although it looks as if the decision hasn’t been put to a full council meeting. A quick search of the Public Tenders website revealed that it hadn’t been put out to tender either. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there has been any foul play, as public sector organisations only have to put service contracts out to tender if they are worth more than £113,057, and although we know that the entire spring clean is costing £500,000, there has been no official confirmation of how much of this will go to Enterprise (my FOI request is still pending, and I suspect I may have to the full 20 working days to get a response). However, given the reportedly close relationship between council officials and Enterprise’s managers, it’s easy to see why some people are suspicious that the contract may not offer good value for money.
My search of the Public Tenders website also turned up the information that the council is currently offering a contract to clean empty council housing, worth around £130,000 per year. Even though the council decided in January that their cleaning services should be kept in-house.
It looks as if the anti-privatisation campaign isn’t over yet.