Cash-strapped Edinburgh council face £5.5m bill from home repairs scandal

TAXPAYERS will be hammered with a £5.5m bill from the fallout of the Capital’s statutory notice housing repairs scandal.

Monday, 8th July 2019, 5:27 pm
The city council have set money aside
The city council have set money aside

Figures obtained under freedom of information laws show more than 2,000 homeowners have disputed work carried out on their properties.

The majority have been settled for a figure understood to be around £4.2m while the council has also forked out more than £1.3m on lawyers.

Tory leader on the council Iain Whyte said: “The statutory notice scandal seems never ending both in time and cost to the taxpayer.”

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The city council have set money aside

The statutory repair system allowed the council to force homeowners to make repairs to shared tenements when they failed to reach agreement themselves.

But the value of statutory notices issued by council surveyors reportedly ballooned from £9.2m in 2005 to more than £30m in 2010.

Some homeowners complained about overcharging, while others of unnecessary and poor quality work.

The system was suspended in 2011 amid claims that bribes had been offered by contractors, and cosy relationships between firms and council officials.

Two council officials were convicted of bribery in the property care department.

Charles Owenson and James Costello took cash and hospitality from Brendan Cantwell and Kevin Balmer in exchange for influencing lucrative contracts for Capital-based firm ABC Ltd.

The four were labelled an “unholy alliance” and “kindred corrupt spirits” by a sheriff who jailed them for a total of 13 years in 2015.

Now figures obtained by the Evening News show disputes with 1,675 homeowners have been settled by the council in the last ten years.

The vast majority of these, 1,309, were settled in 2015 while disputes with 463 homeowners remain unsettled.

“It seems astonishing that a fifth of the cases remain outstanding when almost all of the rest were concluded in 2015 and 2016,” said Cllr Whyte.

“What have they been up to in the three years since given that delay costs the taxpayer huge sums in legal fees and can only leave an outstanding worry for owners who have this going on unsettled.”

The figures prompted calls for the council to update members on why disputes are still dragging on.

“It’s high time we had an update to the finance committee outlining a schedule to work through these cases and to explain why only 13 have been concluded in the last two years when over 1600 closed in the two years before that,” said Cllr Whyte.

“After claiming the situation was under control the SNP convener has clearly taken his eye off the ball and let things slide.”

A council spokesman said: “As part of the review of historical property conservation work we identified cases where clients were entitled to refunds.

“A large number of these have now been settled and funds have been set aside for those not yet fully settled.”