Page last updated at 16:45 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Bin service 'privatisation' test

Bins overflowing during the summer in Edinburgh
Private firms were brought into Edinburgh to clear overflowing bins

Edinburgh City Council is considering permanently privatising its bin services, according to a new report.

The proposed move is revealed in an Audit Scotland report on the council's performance.

It is likely to anger the capital's bin men, who have been working-to-rule for more than four months over pay reform proposals they claim lowers wages.

The service is to go through a "market test" to analyse if the private sector could do the job better for less money.

Union leaders said that the workforce would be "thoroughly disheartened" by the news, and hit out at the council for "dragging their heels" on the bin dispute and showing little appetite to resolve it.

The real waste in the council comes from the top
Stephen MacGregor

Stephen MacGregor, convener of Unite, the union for the city council, said that the council had wasted money bringing in private staff to do a job its own staff were there to do.

He added: "But this move doesn't surprise me. There has been absolutely no appetite from the council to resolve the dispute within refuse collection and I have been saying for some time now that they are only interested in privatising this valued service.

"We have offered up using ACAS, they refused. Our members have volunteered to take part in refuse collection focus groups, but nothing has happened as 'diaries are too full'.

"The real waste in the council comes from the top."

'Best value'

But Edinburgh's Director of Services for Communities Mark Turley said: "We have proposals and have wanted to discuss these with refuse collection staff for months. If they are at last willing to talk then we will meet next week."

Edinburgh's city leaders have consistently rejected calls to see how much it would cost for private firms to take over refuse collection duties permanently.

However, the report by Audit Scotland details a range of "risk areas" that could hit the performance of the city council. In a section on planned actions regarding refuse collection it states that "the service will be market tested in 2010-11".

Council officials had previously opened talks on what services could be delivered in different ways but the Audit Scotland report is the first indication that the council wants to look specifically at refuse collection.

Iain Whyte, leader of the Conservative group, put forward a motion at a full council meeting calling for such a move. However, his motion was defeated, with all Lib Dem and SNP councillors voting against it.

Mr Whyte said: "This is something that has to be done to see if we are getting best value."

An Edinburgh City Council spokeswoman said: "Refuse collection is one area being considered within the alternative service delivery project."

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