The Scottish Government is being urged to intervene and “prevent international embarrassment for Edinburgh and Scotland” as a strike by council staff has left litter bins overflowing in the capital.
Tories and the Liberal Democrats both demanded action, although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she hopes the improved pay offer will be sufficient to end the “disruption” in Edinburgh.
While tourists have been flocking to the capital to enjoy the summer festivals, cleansing staff working for Edinburgh City Council went out on strike on Thursday August 18, as part of a dispute over pay.
The walkout, the first in a series of protests planned by trade unions, is due to go on until August 30, with bins around the city already overflowing with rubbish as a result of not being emptied.
The action comes while Edinburgh is the “centre of the cultural world”, the First Minister said.
Ms Sturgeon said: “Nobody wants to see the kind of disruption and impact of strikes that many people are witnessing in Edinburgh right now.”
But she said she hoped the improved pay deal, which would see wages increase by 5%, would resolve the dispute.
The local government body, Cosla, made the latest offer on Friday, and while unions have said they will consider the deal they warned it is still significantly below the current rate of inflation.
Alison Maclean of Unite noted: “While the 5% offer is an improvement, it is important to emphasise that it comes at a time when the broader retail price index has now hit a 40-year high at 12.3%.
“Unite’s local government committee will urgently consider this latest offer. At this juncture the strikes for next week continue as planned.”
Ms Sturgeon, speaking during a visit to Aberdeen, said: “We live in a really challenging time with inflation in double figures right now, which is why the Scottish Government is determined to deliver – as far as we can and to facilitate as far as we can – fair pay deals.
“We’ve provided – and the councils are the employers of the workers that you’re referring to right now – we’ve provided more resources to local authorities to try to facilitate a fairer pay deal and I’m glad to see that Cosla has now put on the table a 5% pay offer and I hope that now paves the way to these issues being resolved.”
If you’re out and about and a bin is full or overflowing, please take your litter home with you if you can. Street cleaning and bin collections are currently suspended because of strike action. Find out more https://t.co/O7wol3Hdw5 pic.twitter.com/4XkZ776dUE
— The City of Edinburgh Council (@Edinburgh_CC) August 22, 2022
Scottish Conservative local government spokesman Miles Briggs, however, said there had been an “astounding” lack of contingency planning ahead of the strike, saying: “More could have been done to prepare the city, such as working with private companies or providing additional bins.”
With bins having not been emptied for several days, he said: “The SNP Government must now intervene to prevent international embarrassment for Edinburgh and Scotland.
“The rubbish piling up on our streets risks damaging our city’s reputation.
“These annual festivals are supposed to be a source of pride, not humiliation.
“The SNP Government must get around the table and fix this before it’s too late. They cannot stand by and watch while a situation that they created by giving councils a poor funding settlement spirals out of control.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton, who represents Edinburgh Western at Holyrood, said there were now “mountains of filth piling up”.
He added: “We all know that August is perhaps the most important month in Edinburgh’s calendar. This situation risks jeopardising the capital’s reputation among festival visitors from across the UK and the world.
“Refuse workers are being hit hard by the cost-of-living crisis. They need emergency changes to the budget which will properly fund local government and support those in need.
“The Scottish Government must fund local authorities so that they can afford to give workers a proper pay rise and put an end to this sorry mess.”
But SNP MP Deidre Brock said it was the Labour administration at Edinburgh City Council that needed to act.
Ms Brock, who represents Edinburgh North and Leith, said: “Labour’s inaction is an absolute disgrace. The incompetence of this administration, and its failure to put forward a decent pay offer when it was first called for, risks making our capital city an embarrassment.
“The SNP in government put an extra £140 million on the table, on top of the £100 million extra given to councils earlier in the year, yet Labour refused to offer that money to refuse workers for over a week, leaving our capital streets an eyesore.
“Residents and tourists alike need to see a plan from Labour to clean up the capital starting today. All we’ve seen so far is ineptitude.
“This is not just a shameful eyesore but is a potential environmental and safety hazard on our streets.”