Statutory repairs scandal: New tsar to get tough

There are 278 cases in which property owners are disputing statutory repairs bills. Picture: Callum Bennetts
There are 278 cases in which property owners are disputing statutory repairs bills. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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A STATUTORY repairs tsar is to be appointed with the power to write cheques for up to £100,000 to settle claims in the latest bid to end the backlog of cases from the scandal-hit scheme.

Council chiefs plan to tackle the hundreds of unresolved cases linked to the controversial property repairs system by adopting the tough approach they brought to getting the tram project back on track after years of delays and disputes.

Under the statutory repairs scheme, the city council had the power to order essential work to be carried out on private properties. It paid upfront for repairs to tenement buildings, then recovered the cash from owners. The system was shelved in 2011 following an investigation into fraud and corruption which led to 11 workers being sacked.

There are still 278 cases – some dating back many years – in which owners are disputing bills. A pilot scheme introduced last year, which saw law firm Maclay Murray and Spens brought in at a cost of around £100,000 to meet complainants and recommend how disputes could be resolved, failed to speed up settlements.

Now senior official Alastair Maclean will take on the “tsar” role in an effort to accelerate the process. He will be able to approve refunds, compensation settlements or write-offs up to £100,000.

He will also oversee the work of finance consultants Deloitte, brought in to deal with around 400 projects in which bills had not been sent out.

Mr Maclean will work with a project board, including representatives from the council’s finance, legal, property conservation and communications departments, meeting twice a week to keep a close watch on the drive to cut the 
backlog. And there will be an all-party oversight group, where politicians will also monitor progress. These measures mirror the arrangements made to address the problems with the tram project.

Council finance convener Alasdair Rankin said: “The challenges facing the former property conservation service are significant and, while progress has been made, it is clear that we need to speed up the resolution of outstanding complaints and recovery of the sums due to the council.

“These proposals will result in a more straightforward approach to reaching a reasonable, timely conclusion, while continuing to develop a more suitable replacement service.”

Vice-convener Bill Cook said: “I welcome the increased focus, coordination and, crucially, transparency this new approach will bring. The all-party oversight group, in particular, will allow for greater political input and scrutiny.”