5 years to fix repairs scandal - bill reaches £10m

Repair services in the city are being reformed. Picture: Colin Hattersley

Repair services in the city are being reformed. Picture: Colin Hattersley

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CLEARING the backlog of cases from the statutory repair scandal will take at least five years, the News can reveal.

And it has emerged the final bill to untangle the mess left behind by the defunct property conservation department is now set to top £10 million,

It comes as specialists are set to be drafted in to complete work on around 3000 “limbo” cases – where notices were served but no work undertaken – before the whole department was suspended amid allegations of bribery and corruption.

Predicted to cost £1.1m over the next five years, the new squad will include a customer advisor, case officer and building surveyors all working from City Chambers.

This latest payout comes on top of a £3m warchest paid to investigate the property repairs saga by auditors Deloitte and a decision to write off £5.5m of debt owed by property owners refusing to pay for repairs they considered over-engineered or unnecessary.

Deloitte was later awarded almost £1m to help the council bill residents for work carried out under the discredited system.

Today, blueprints for a new enforcement arm of the newly-created Shared Repairs Service have been unveiled as the city aims to finally get to grips with the chaos in the wake of the collapse of the former property conservation department.

Opposition leaders have welcomed moves towards reforming repairs services across the Capital and admitted there had been signs of progress.

Councillor Gavin Corbett, Green finance spokesman, said: “Are individuals caught up in shared repairs problems seeing that progress? I think it’s too early to say.

“In moving forward, it’s critical that we never again have the situation where the customer is treated as an afterthought and that a future service is about people, not property.”

It is hoped homeowners will take responsibility for their own shared repairs under the new system with the council only swooping in to assist with emergency and essential work when it is clear residents are unable come to agreement themselves.

Finance chiefs have insisted they are determined to “get it right” and move on from a shamed system that damaged the council’s reputation.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said: “We’re keen that owners recognise that responsibility for repair of their own properties lies primarily with them.

“We recognise that there are risks in having an enforcement service – there are financial and reputational risks to the council.

“But nevertheless we feel that the council has an obligation in terms of the built environment of the city [and that] we have a responsibility of the upkeep of the fabric of the city.”

He added: “We are also reacting to what residents are saying – there has been a very clear and strong response from people, saying, ‘we think we should not throw the baby out with the bath water and we see the council as the only body which has an effective enforcement role’.”

Under the updated arrangement, owners of properties requiring emergency and essential repair will be liable for an administration fee worth 26 per cent of a project’s 
value.

But there will also be a 21 per cent “prompt payment” discount for residents who settle within one month of a bill being issued.

Councillor Bill Cook, the Capital’s deputy finance leader, said: “These proposals should not be viewed as a panacea solution to managing shared repairs in the city and council involvement would only be as a last resort.

“That said, we recognise that not all homeowners are in a position to manage repairs for themselves and are in genuine need of support.”