THE terrible set of circumstances that took place at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary is a stark reminder of the potential risks when private companies are involved in delivering public services ("NHS board to sue after blunder", The Herald, April 20).
We should be extremely thankful that the surgeons and medical staff on duty at this time have the skills and knowledge to carry on operating when power was failing around them.
Very rarely does a public body criticise a private company working in its remit, so when NHS Lothian states it "could no longer tolerate the repeated and potentially life-threatening nature of such incidents", everyone has to start to realise what is happening within the NHS and local authorities when work is carried out by private companies whose main interest is increasing their profit margin and share price.
Almost at every level within public bodies individual contracts of employment are being analysed and scrutinised for savings. Staff are leaving the NHS and local councils and the remaining employees are expected to absorb an ever-increasing workload and still deliver a high quality of service for Scotland's public.
Yet private companies who are involved with our public services are still receiving large payments for providing what I consider to be a less than satisfactory standard of service. For example, North Ayrshire Council has paid £34m – so far – for four schools, yet the company which operates within them refuses to pay staff the council's living wage of £7.20 per hour in a geographical area of Scotland blighted by poor health and poverty. That stance in itself sends a message of negativity from the private contractor.
In South Ayrshire the total projected cost to the council for five schools is £367.97m (assuming inflation is 2.5% from February 2012 onwards). This covers the 30 years of the contract. The reality is that this council is having to pay £9.148m (excluding VAT) every month (figures were sourced through Freedom of Information requests in 2011).
The economic circumstances of today are entirely different to those which prevailed when these contracts were drawn up. As councils face funding shortages and low-paid staff experience continued wage freezes, why do these highly profitable contracts remain unchallenged?
If a local authority deems it worthwhile to examine the employment contracts of its staff in an attempt to make savings, then surely it should be a priority to require these private companies to reflect the difficult times we are all living in.
GMB Scotland Trade Union,
9 The Foregate, Kilmarnock.
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