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Date: Wed 19 October 2011

Bizarre twist in Edinburgh privatisation saga as council leader gives details of censored reports

UNISON has accused Edinburgh City Council of behaving like “a bizarre cross between Dad’s Army and the KGB”, following a newspaper interview where leader Jenny Dawe revealed details of a survey that the council had been trying to keep secret, and also details of the confidential bidding process to run the city’s refuse collection.

Edinburgh City Council is planning the largest privatisation in the history of local government in Scotland. Pollsters MORI were commissioned to canvas public views on the process but, on the eve of next week’s crucial vote on the issue, the council refused Freedom of Information requests to release the report on the grounds that it would ‘prejudice, substantially, the council’s ability to conduct its affairs’. Having done this, council leader Jenny Dawe discussed the contents of the report in a newspaper article.

In the course of the same interview the council leader also gave details of a confidential tendering process about the future of the city’s refuse collection services.

Peter Hunter, UNISON's Regional Organiser for Edinburgh, explains:

“This privatisation process would be farcical if it weren’t so serious. The council are combining the openness of the KGB with the competence of Dad’s Army. They keep information from the public - and gag trade union negotiators with confidentiality agreements – but feel free to leak things to the press.

"We asked to see the MORI report because we were eager to see if the people of Edinburgh support our campaign against privatisation. We were shocked when the council banned the release of their own report. We don't understand how a publicly funded opinion poll into the proposals of public body can be kept private. Now we read that excerpts of that censored report have been leaked to newspapers by the leader of the council.

"According to press reports the MORI report says people of Edinburgh believe that the bidders are motivated by cost alone; that accountability for services will be lost; and that the contract could not be terminated if the service is poor. The council may not like what the voters think but their views cannot be ignored. In the light of the trams debacle we need more openness at the city council, not a growing veil of secrecy. If the report prejudices the position of the council why was it leaked to the press? We will take this issue to the Information Commissioner, the Scottish Government and, ultimately, to the courts. The truth will out!"

Regarding the refuse collection proposal, Peter Hunter said:

"Union officials have to sign confidentiality agreements before getting access to the process. So we were dumbstruck to read the council leader discussing key details of the bid process before the official report is released.

"It’s true that both of the private bidders want to move to a single bin system for recycling but the in-house team are working to a higher environmental standard.

"Councillor's Dawe's comments treat the private bidders equally but they undermine the argument for the in-house bid. We can't help feeling that the council see privatisation as a done deal before the vote even takes place."

ENDS

Notes to editors:

1. Jenny Dawes is quoted discussing the MORI report and the refuse collection tendering proposals on the Scotsman website here:
http://www.scotsman.com/news/
colour_coded_bins_dumped_as_city_shakes_up_recycling_1_1916396

2. The council refused to provide information requested by UNISON, applying the following exemption from the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002. Section 30 (c) – Prejudice to the effective conduct of public affairs.

The council said, about information it has now passed excerpts of to the Evening News:

“To release this information, at this stage, would cause significant harm to this process and would prejudice, substantially, the council’s ability to conduct its affairs in an effective and fair manner. In this regard, I consider that the public interest is best served in withholding the information as opposed to disclosing it at this point in time.”

For further information contact:
Peter Hunter, Regional Officer, UNISON 0774 016 7777

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