Four more staff suspended over statutory repairs

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AT LEAST four more council employees have been suspended following the wide-scale investigation into the city’s statutory repairs system, the Evening News can reveal.

Three more workers were suspended last week and a fourth was ordered from his post at the end of August, taking the total number of suspensions to around 18.

The Evening News understands that Lothian and Borders Police fraud unit has now cranked up its investigation, appointing a full-time team to trawl through documents.

Sources have told how police and independent auditor Deloitte have already uncovered evidence of serious wrongdoing, which could lead a number of people being charged.

A progress report looking at the findings of the investigation is due to be submitted to a full council meeting next month.

In the latest wave, two members of staff were suspended from the property care arm of the council, while another two were suspended from the property conservation department..

Councillor Ewan Aitken said: “I hope we see all the evidence in the report in October. With every further suspension, more serious questions are being asked.”

It has been almost a year since the first member of staff working for the property conservation department was suspended, after he passed information onto one contractor – known as Contractor X – so that he could blow the whistle on wrongdoing. This allegedly includes revealing financial information to contractors so they could underbid rivals, handing contracts out to builders who were not on an authorised agreements list and giving a disproportionate amount of work to some contractors, while others had nothing.

Residents from across the city have complained that original estimates on their repairs have spiralled, sometimes to more than 10 or 20 times the original quote. There have also been accusations of substandard work and a number of works billed for are believed to have never been completed. A number of home owners are considering legal action.

A meeting has been organised for affected residents at the Minto Hotel, on Minto Street, this Thursday at 6pm. Details can be found on the Edinburgh Residents for Statutory Notice Reform Facebook group.

Further whistleblowers who have talked to the Evening News say the cracks started to show in 2005 when a “league table” was set up to encourage workers to hand out statutory repairs notices. Property conservation workers were also taken on nights out, to lapdancing clubs and offered holidays.

One inside source said: “In addition to looking at possible corruption and fraud, the council is reviewing the way the whole department operated. Bosses are well aware that people have shown a large degree of incompetence, naivety and have adopted a ‘head in the sand’ outlook at these problems.”

A council spokesman would not comment while the investigation is ongoing. It is believed at least one suspended staff member has returned to work.

vraimes@edinburghnews.com

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