Budget cuts delay new statutory repair team

The statutory notices scandal has rocked the Capital. Picture: Paul Chappells
The statutory notices scandal has rocked the Capital. Picture: Paul Chappells
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BUDGET shortfalls have pushed back the launch of the Capital’s new shared repairs enforcement squad until next year – as the value of statutory notice write-offs soars to 
£6.5 million.

The service was due to be introduced in September under £2.16m blueprints aimed at ensuring the city is able to move on from the long-running statutory repairs scandal.

But financial pressures have meant funds allocated for 2015-16 being cut by more than £600,000 – forcing a six-month delay.

Efforts to get the project off the ground have also been plagued by a failure to recruit additional building surveyors and slower than expected installation of new IT systems.

The setback came as it was revealed all unbilled work carried out by Edinburgh’s defunct property conservation department – valued at more than £22m – has now been 
reviewed.

And city leaders have declared £6.5m of this sum is considered “irrecoverable” – up from a running total of £2.2m reported in January.

The latest costs come on top of a £3m war chest paid for a Deloitte probe into the saga, which was sparked by property owners refusing to pay for repairs considered over-engineered or unnecessary.

Blueprints for a new enforcement team were unveiled late last year, when we revealed that clearing the case backlog could take five years.

A pilot of parts of the new service has been given the go-ahead and is scheduled to get under way from September.

But confirmation of new statutory repair snags has created concern among critics.

Gordon Murdie, a former chairman of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors East Area, who represents more than 200 clients affected by the controversy, said: “This growing write-off figure will turn out to be the tip of the iceberg. It certainly does not expose the true financial cost to the Edinburgh council taxpayers.

“This figure is only in respect of pending invoices – it is merely an admission that Edinburgh City Council were going to overcharge owners by a further £6m and now they’re not. They have, of course, already paid various contractors £6m too much from council taxes and The Engine Shed is closing.”

Councillor Allan Jackson, Conservative member for Forth, said: “I think one of the biggest problems you have apart from the obvious financing one is recruitment. There’s not a big market out there for people who want to come into this council and do this kind of work.”

City bosses admitted the non-recoverable sums were “significant” but insisted the Capital was on a path to 
recovery.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance leader, said: “The new design [of the replacement enforcement service] pays particular attention to the lessons learned from the former service and to the need for a culture change on the part of homeowners.

“The longer lead-in time will allow us to pilot a number of projects and to fine tune the new service ahead of the full launch next year.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com