TONIGHT in a church hall in Bellvue Crescent the candidates in the Leith Walk by-election will be attempting to convince their audience that they should mark their X against their name on September 10.
It’s not an election which will upset the power numbers at the city council, as the two councillors who stood down were SNP and Green – though no doubt Labour would like to consolidate its control of the chambers and take at least one of those positions.
However what makes this by-election slightly more interesting than normal is the Tory candidate. Gordon Murdie has stood before as an independent – a very costly activity – but this time he has a party campaign machine behind him.
While you might laugh at the idea of anywhere in Leith electing a Conservative councillor, and his chances are undoubtedly slim, Murdie is a quantity surveyor who has taken it upon himself to tackle the council’s statutory notice scandal. It is this which might well see him garner support with a public fed up with an apparent inability on the council’s part to fix the mess.
In his professional capacity he is representing many of those who were hit with repair bills totalling hundreds of thousands, and there are countless numbers of those down Leith Walk.
There’s one particular block in Elm Row for instance which was being asked to pay £309,000 for work needing done under the council’s statutory notice inspection team. When this was queried by the owners, they were told the council was “satisfied” with the bill and there would be no review of it by the independent auditors Deloitte, who were brought in specifically to comb through all the bills for any “imaginary” work on the notice sheet.
Murdie was consulted and the owners refused to leave it. They agreed to pay £5000 for the bill to be checked by Deloitte, but if there was a difference of more than five per cent then they would withhold the review money.
And what happened? The bill came back, rewritten and vastly reduced at only £180,000 – that’s a difference of £129,000. That’s the price of a home in Ferniehill.
How could there have been such a whacking big mark-up on the original bill? It can’t possibly be clerical error. Something deeply wrong has been going on. And to add insult to injury of course the council was demanding the £180,000 be paid in full in a fortnight.
Of course there’s been a police investigation and two former property services workers were jailed for corruption. It transpired they were handing out lucrative repair contracts for council buildings to contractors – two of whom were also jailed – in return for bribes.
Yet the inquiry into the over-inflated bills such as that at Elm Row found no criminal wrongdoing. That is beyond belief.
Admittedly the police have said that paperwork was “unavailable” and more fraudulent activity was likely – they just could not prove it.
I’d imagine the homeowners who were on the receiving end of wild estimates will want further action. If Deloitte can go over the books and find such whopping errors it can’t take that much to discover who was responsible for the original bill and ask them just how they could get it so wrong.
“Feckless bungling” is how Murdie describes what happened – others would have stronger words for it.
Murdie has done his work for those affected by the scandal mostly for free such is his desire to get to the bottom of it and put things right. It’s unlikely he’ll get the chance to do it from inside the council, but at least his candidacy has put the statutory notice scandal back on the agenda.
Our family celebration
TOMORROW is a big day in my extended family. So I’d just like to abuse my position as a columnist and publicly say congratulations to my sister-in-law Julie Hendry and her husband-to-be Dave Bissett and wish you both all the best for your future together.
Plane wrong not to consult over flight path
ISN’T it odd that the kind of consultation which needs to be carried out should anyone wish to build a new housing development, tramline, road or school is not even a basic requirement when trialling a new flight path over people’s homes?
That’s what families in West Lothian have discovered when the first they knew about a new flight path from Edinburgh Airport was when they were woken at 6am with a commercial flight thundering overhead. Consultation might not be a legal requirement but it would definitely have been polite.
Architect beaten by austerity cuts
HOW sad to see renowned architect Malcolm Fraser shut up shop.
The creative brain behind Dancebase in the Grassmarket, the transformation of Infirmary Street baths into the Dovecot Studios, Pizza Express in Stockbridge, the Scottish Poetry Library, new homes in West Pilton, and much much more, has closed his practice after 22 years.
Malcolm, below, made his name mainly in Edinburgh and has added much clever design to the city. And his reach has been further across Scotland.
Yet he has been unable to make his practice profitable. Good design costs, and in a time of austerity it’s sadly regarded as an expensive frippery.
Roads holey out of order
THE worst offenders of holes in the city’s roads have been revealed and unsurprisingly they are five of the big utility companies with Scottish Water topping the list.
Of course ageing drains and pipes need replaced but it’s the lack of joined-up thinking by these companies – as well as the failure to reinstate the roads properly afterwards – which makes people furious. Without fail they should all sign up to the Edinburgh Roadworks Ahead Agreement.