Council set to write off £18m stat repairs debt

The statutory repairs scandal has cost the council millions. Picture: Callum Bennetts
The statutory repairs scandal has cost the council millions. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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CITY chiefs are preparing to write off statutory repairs debt worth £18 million – a sum which could fund two primary schools.

Homeowners who were billed for works under the system but not pursued are now unlikely ever to have to pay.

How much street cleaning and effective refuse collection would £18m have bought?

GORDON MURDIE

City chiefs had already admitted they were preparing to write off £16.5m and have now added another £1.5m to that total.

But they insisted the “prudent” measure would prevent other council budgets from being affected.

The controversial system – which saw neighbours in shared tenements have to use city-approved builders for repairs before being charged later – was first suspended in 2011 and later scrapped amid claims residents were being overcharged.

The move comes after auditors at Deloitte completed a separate review of all unbilled work – valued at more than £22m – which was carried out by Edinburgh’s defunct property conservation department.

That process has resulted in a fresh agreement to write off nearly £10m – up from around £6.5m reported in March.

Critics today voiced fears that the city’s total bill will continue to soar and slammed the way in which the issue has been managed.

Gordon Murdie, a former chairman of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors East Area who has represented more than 200 clients affected by the controversy, said: “The council concede that they are happy writing off an amount which would have built two much-needed primary schools.

“How much street cleaning and effective refuse collection would £18m have bought? This figure is set to rise since, I believe, there are 155 cases still unreviewed and even those that have been reviewed are, in many cases, being challenged.”

Mr Murdie, who is also standing as Conservative candidate in the Leith Walk by-election, added: “I want affected owners to have a voice within the council and ensure public money is not wasted.”

Comely Bank Place resident Bruce Thompson, 70, who had £164,000 of invalid work carried out on his tenement block, said: “The [write-off] amount is going up and up.

“Legal costs for this are becoming astronomical within the council. I think they are managing this very badly.”

But city chiefs have defended their decision to increase the bad debt fund.

Andrew Field, head of the city council’s new shared repairs service, said: “We’re well through this process and we’ve now got a very fine view, which won’t change, of how much has been written off because of the Deloitte [and] Joule-reviewed process.

“We’ve got a very established view also on what we’re going to pay out on parts of the settlements process. The last remaining real lump of latent debt that I’m now turning my attention to is that debt that’s pre-Deloitte and pre-Project Joule.”

Mr Field said the new probe would look at cases which have been suspended since 2010 and before.

“I’ve just started to have an investigation into what that’s made up of,” he added.

“It’s made up of projects that are partly finished and not yet finished – [and] made up projects that have been put on hold for a reason we don’t quite understand. To be prudent, we thought it appropriate to have an extra ability in there in case [it’s needed].”