A European trade deal largely being thrashed out behind closed doors could have a disastrous impact on council services in the Highlands, according to the authority’s SNP group.
EU and US negotiators are discussing the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which could have huge repercussions for future business including council contracts, the NHS and schools.
Highland politicians claim the talks have been “covert and undemocratic” and ultimately threaten to undermine local decision making.
Little is known of the discussions other than snippets of leaked documents and responses to Freedom of Information requests.
A key aim of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. Alarm bells have also rung in food and farming sectors.
Councillors in the north have unanimously stated their disappointment that the negotiations have had “no input or oversight from representatives of local government.”
Senior SNP councillor Liz MacDonald warned that TTIP would be detrimental to public services, employment and council suppliers and “undermine the democratic decision making of local and national government.”
Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson is to write to Scottish MEPs and the Scottish and UK governments to register the concerns.
The Scottish Government has already registered its concern regarding the potential for privatising the NHS if the trade deal is agreed.
Councillor MacDonald said: “This deal could threaten public services, set up shady arbitration panels capable of overruling the UK courts system and undermining regulations such as health and safety standards.”
She warned that an “investor state dispute settlement” featured of the talks could remove the council’s right to decide procurement issues and potentially leave the council open to legal action from multinationals if its decisions are “deemed to affect corporate profits.”
Labour councillor Brian Murphy dubbed the talks a “counter revolution against democracy,” in which lobbyists for multinational organisations could influence EU officials.
TTIP, which has been discussed since February, aims to reduce regulatory barriers to trade for big business, affecting food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and sovereign powers of nations. It has prompted anger across the continent.