Call for independent look at statutory repairs

Over the last couple of weeks a number of reports have emerged regarding the on-going situation with statutory repairs in Edinburgh.

At the end of last month it was revealed that five members of staff were sacked as part of the investigation with the manager of the department following days later.

It then emerged that the Council has paid out a total of £30m to contractors and have yet to retrieve any of it back from homeowners who have had work done.  With over 850 complaints from residents, the Council may be facing lengthy and expensive legal action and this has left the prospect of taxpayers having to foot the bill.

The scandal has revolved around complaints about a number of aspects concerning statutory repairs including escalating costs of repairs; the quality and necessity of works; and extremely poor communication and administration from the Council.

These concerns led to the Council calling in Deloitte a year ago to undertake a review of the department while Lothian & Borders Police are currently involved in an on-going investigation into the conduct of the department with reports suggesting that staff are ‘likely to face charges’.

The Deloitte review has now finally been concluded at a cost of £1.5m however its contents look set to be a closely guarded secret, disclosed only to high ranking council leaders amidst concerns that its contents could jeopardise the police investigation.

The current situation is symptomatic of an administration that has allowed the issue to run away from them. By failing to investigate the concerns with the system which have been put to the Council by me and by residents over a number of years the scale of the problem has been allowed to escalate.

At a time when we needed decisive leadership to find a way forward, the administration has hidden behind the Deloitte review and suspended all but emergency work.  Meanwhile, necessary repairs across the city have not been addressed allowing buildings to fall further into disrepair and costs to escalate.

This hiatus has also had a serious impact on the construction sector in the city as work has dried up for reputable contractors.

The result is a disastrous legacy for future administrations who will be left with the job of clearing up the legal and financial fallout while dealing with the backlog of work.  The legacy for residents of the city is financial uncertainty at a time when the Council’s budget is under huge pressure and current levels of debt are at their highest for a generation.

The problem has now escalated to a point where the public simply no longer trust the Council to get the job done.  Yet given the nature of the city’s buildings the reality is that we need a robust system to ensure that common repairs can be carried out efficiently, affordably and fairly.

Given the lack of trust in the Council on this issue I believe that we need an independent investigation if we are to be sure that lessons will be learned.  I have therefore written to the Auditor General, Robert Black, calling on Audit Scotland to look into the issue to address not only Edinburgh’s problems but to inform good practice across Scotland.