Unions in Glasgow have reacted with anger and disbelief to the news that all 1,500 non-teaching staff in the city's secondary schools will be transferred to the private sector under the council's plan to finance its school modernisation programme through a pound;100 million public-private partnership (PPP).
Willie Hart, secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland in Glasgow, said: "We are very concerned about the major impact of the extension of PPP to every secondary school." Mr Hart pledged support for members of other unions in fighting the proposals. The EIS's committee of management in Glasgow was due to meet last night.
Unions representing staff employed by Glasgow City Council met Frank McAveety and Charlie Gordon, the leader and depute leader of the ruling Labour group, last week. Mr Gordon is understood to have told them the council would have been "criminally irresponsible" to pass up the chance of securing additional finance.
Concerns over the implications of private partnership schemes were also raised by the Scottish Trades Union Congress at a meeting last Wednesday with Geoffrey Robinson, the Paymaster General, who is the Treasury minister with responsibility for PPP.
Mr Robinson has singled out Glasgow's schools scheme as one of 50 "significant" projects in the UK which will have Government backing. The meeting was said to have been "more productive than expected but no champagne corks popped".
Alex McLuckie, head of the public services section of the GMB union which represents 1,000 staff, said the council had rushed to "externalise" terms of employment because it claims to be under pressure from the Scottish Office.
"This is outrageous from a Labour Government which believes in a mixed economy," Mr McLuckie said.
The council could consider alternative approaches such as joint ventures between the public and private sectors, Mr McLuckie said, as well as subcontracting arrangements. "The Treasury's rules are no more than guidelines."
Transfer of non-teaching staff to the private consortium that will "build, own and operate" educational facilities is common under PPP contracts. But the scale of Glasgow's proposals has taken the unions by surprise.
They had understood that normal PPP arrangements would only apply to privately funded school buildings and information technology. The council's plans envisage two new secondary schools to replace four, with the possibility of a new Roman Catholic secondary on the south side, and a major IT investment programme.
Ian McDonald, Glasgow's depute director of education, said that because every Glasgow secondary will benefit from upgrading under PPP, all non-teaching staff would be affected. Mr McDonald made it clear, however, that only cleaning, catering and building maintenance staff, who are considered to be "asset-bound" in PPP jargon, will be transferred. School administrative and technician staff, such as teachers, would remain in the employ of the local authority.
Mr McDonald pledged that the council would negotiate specific contracts with the successful private consortium to ensure existing terms and conditions were at least retained. "We will not be leaving anything to chance or to the vagaries of European employment legislation," he said.
Staff would also transfer on the basis of council policy of a minimum wage of pound;4 an hour, Mr McDonald said. The changeover to new conditions would not take effect until August 2001.