Council pay £800k to chase statutory notices £22m

Edinburgh City Council: Condemned for FoI response. Picture: Martin Smith
Edinburgh City Council: Condemned for FoI response. Picture: Martin Smith
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CRITICS have rounded on council plans to spend £800,000 on auditing experts to bill homeowners for unpaid statutory notices work.

Finance chiefs are to draft in Deloitte LLP in a bid to recoup some of the outstanding £22 million on 430 projects caught up in the repair scheme.

Fears have been aired after the auditors were previously appointed to carry out an internal investigation at the council at a cost of £2m.

Victims of the scheme today hit out at the cost, claiming the council “was digging itself ­further into a financial hole”.

But finance chiefs insisted the firm would help “reduce the burden on ­taxpayers” by recovering money.

Tamsin Stevens, who is contesting a bill for work charged at twice the original estimate, said: “They have already spent millions on an audit which was carried out by Deloitte.

“The people who were independently auditing them are now being paid another £800,000. They are not fixing anything, the problem is just getting worse and they are ­digging themselves further into a financial hole.”

Gordon Murdie, of Quantus quantity surveyors, who has more than 200 clients affected by the property repairs controversy said: “Edinburgh council has a computer or two and can run off correct invoices – is it that they don’t have correct invoices yet?

“They should have. If Deloittes are employed to print invoices arrived at behind closed doors then a public inquiry should be called.”

Councillor Gavin Corbett, finance spokesman for the Greens, welcomed the move, but said it was important owners were treated fairly. He said: “There’s a large volume of unbilled work that owners are keen to get sorted and out of the way. If bringing in external expertise allows that to happen more quickly and accurately and increases income otherwise lost, then that is fine.

“However, that must not get confused with work where owners are genuinely concerned that repairs have been poorly done or way over-priced. These need to be dealt ­separately and in a fair and transparent way so that owners can feel justice is done.”

The property repair scheme involves contractors carrying out communal repairs without the consent of homeowners – who are then billed for it.

Council employees have since faced allegations of ­bribery, overcharging and poor-quality work arising from statutory notices.

Councillor Alasdair Rankin, finance and budget convener, said: “It’s essential for the council’s finances, and to reduce a burden on Edinburgh taxpayers, that we recover the amounts for work done but never billed.

“We fully recognise that property owners need to have faith that the bills are properly worked out, which is one of the reasons for appointing an independent organisation to do this. I’m sure many also want this issue resolved sooner rather than later.”