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  • Writer's pictureDeena Tissera

‘Privatisation’ fears over Aberdeen City Council service overhaul branded ‘nonsense’

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

Aberdeen City Council is opening talks with the Scottish Government on which services could, in the future, be outsourced. Image: Chris Sumner/DC Thomson.

City officials have been tasked with looking at which areas of their work they could outsource in the future.

These would most likely be provided by other public agencies, leaving under fire council leaders blasting concerns as “nonsense”.

Labour has warned the work – which isn’t likely to be signed off at today’s council meeting – could open the back door to privatisation.

What Aberdeen City Council services are being looked at?

Social work for adults and children, council tax collection, free school meal provision and anti-social behaviour services are among the 48 areas that top brass have found alternative providers for.

Councillor Deena Tissera says there are “clear risks”.

“There appears to be absolutely no consultation with the trade unions, and I call on the SNP council co-leader Alex Nicoll to put a stop to this nonsense now by refusing to back privatisation by the back door,” Labour’s Ms Tissera said.

Labour councillor Deena Tissera worries changes to Aberdeen City Council services could open the back door to privatisation. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

“The public will be shocked to learn that services they value could in the future be run by private companies whose first responsibility is to their shareholders rather than the council.”

Her suggestion of privatisation was branded “simply nonsense” by Mr Nicoll’s Liberal Democrat co-leader Ian Yuill.

“There are no proposals in this report to make decisions – that is way down the line, if at all,” he told The P&J.

“It is about further work looking at services the council delivers.

“As a Liberal Democrat, I believe in local services, delivered locally and in most cases that is by local government.”

Union’s ‘serious concerns’ about potential ‘cuts paper’ put forward by boss of cash-strapped council

But legal concerns were raised by Unison union on the eve of the discussion.

Councils are required by law to provide key services, and so the change floated in the report – penned by chief executive Angela Scott and interim chief governance officer Jenni Lawson – would require Scottish Government approval.

Council co-leaders Alex Nicoll, centre, and Ian Yuill, right, dismissed privatisation concerns. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson

The union’s regional manager Peter Hunter warned the move – especially without early consultation – risked “dismantling local democracy”.

He also criticised the idea being brought forward without analysis of how much the cash-strapped council might save by doing it.

In a letter to all councillors, he said of the report: “It is clear this is a cuts paper.

“We don’t know the agencies identified for potential transfer.

“We don’t know who made these assessments, their qualification to undertake that task, the criteria they used, or the way in which the role, function, constitution, resources or powers of transfer partners was assessed.”

“We expect officials will state this is simply a mapping exercise and the impact assessments can be carried out once proposed cuts have been identified in greater detail.

“We say ‘NO’,” he added.

No change to Aberdeen City Council services will be signed off on today

Officials are asking for councillors to only note their early work, brought about as part of a new wave of cost-cutting.

Ms Scott and the council lawyers also want to open talks with the Scottish Government on what would be needed to allow any transfer of responsibility for services.

The local authority is legally required to provide most of the near-100 services on the full list under consideration itself.

Unison’s concerns were put to SNP council co-leader Alex Nicoll, who said: “The chief executive has brought forward this report to allow for wider conversations to take place around how services are delivered for citizens.

“Any changes to the statutory duties discharged by Aberdeen City Council, or any local authority for that matter, would require changes to the law.

“Our priority remains ensuring the best possible public services for our citizens, whether that be delivered by us or another public body.”

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