Senior bosses sent home over repairs scandal

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A NUMBER of senior managers at Edinburgh City Council have been suspended as part of a major investigation into its property management department, the Evening News can reveal today.

Three managers, including the acting head of services, have been removed from their posts following the probe by police and auditors into the city’s statutory repairs system.

Acting head of services Janis Dunn and the head of property conservation, Brian Sibbald, were suspended around ten months ago, while the head of building control, George Findlay, was suspended a few months later.

The former head of services, Bill Ness, who was until recently head of corporate property and was involved in developing the “alternative business model”, was also suspended at the end of last year. Mr Ness has since left his post.

One source today said that many of the senior names had been kept “under lock and key” since their suspensions as part of the £1.8 million investigation. To date, at least 20 people have reportedly been suspended – five of whom were later sacked – although insiders suggest that the number is as high as 30 or more.

A number of allegations have been directed towards some staff and building contractors over recent months. Residents have spoken of bills for work that spiralled from the original estimated costs and sub-standard work. There have also been claims that some people were billed for works that were not carried out.

The council has set up a team of six people to work full-time investigating the complaints.

Staff have been suspended and sacked across four arms of the property management department, including the property conservation, property care, building control and asset management sections – areas that deal with the repair and management of private property and council buildings.

So far, around 700 complaints have been received, and teams at both Lothian and Borders Police and auditor Deloitte have been working on the probe.

One insider told the News: “This is highly embarrassing for the council, whether the suspended have done anything wrong or are entirely innocent. There is nothing to say they are guilty of anything, but there has been a serious breakdown within this department. The identities of the suspended have been kept under lock and key, but the longer this goes on, the more questions are going to be asked.”

Councillor Ewan Aitken said: “These suspensions in themselves do not mean that these individuals are guilty of any misdemeanour, but they indicate the seriousness of the situation.”

John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of the union Unison, said: “While investigations are continuing nobody is guilty of anything and we hope that the final report will tell the public the real story.”

One suspended staff member, who did not want to be named, pointed out that the situation was “highly stressful” for those who had not done anything wrong. The worker added that they were not allowed to comment further, although pointed out their frustration that they had heard “absolutely nothing for months”.

A council spokesman said: “A number of staff are currently suspended as a result of the current investigation. It would not be appropriate to comment on individual cases.”