Memorial benches set on fire by Edinburgh council depot workers to 'save money' in manager's budget

Whistleblowers handed photos to the Evening News exposing the practice.

Saturday, 18th January 2020, 7:00 am
Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)
Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)

Officials have launched a top-level probe after it emerged around 70 much-loved and sentimental memorial benches are being burned by Edinburgh City Council workers.

Photos passed to the Evening News reveal the shocking actions from council workers who have taken to burning damaged memorial benches intended to commemorate lost loved-ones.

Removed from West Princes Street Gardens with some memorialising Victoria Cross holders according to one council source, the benches sat at the council’s Inch Depot for more than a year before being set alight.

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Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)

'Every step followed until the burning'

Council whistleblowers say that instead of patching up damaged benches, managers at the council are instead telling staff to dumpi the benches on a bonfire to save money from their budgets.

It meant several people watching as around 70 benches, which had had their memorial plaques removed, go up in flames at the council’s Inch Depot.

The council have described the actions as “unacceptable” and have launched an investigation into the incident.

Pictures provided to the Evening News which show the benches on fire (Photo: Contributed)

It said every step of the decommissioning process was followed until the burning and it is understood the plaques with the names of loved ones were removed before the benches were set alight.

Benches with minor damage being scrapped

The actions were condemned by whistleblowers within the council who said any benches that have “a bit of damage” are being scrapped.

Council policy states that if a bench is damaged “beyond repair” the cost of a replacement is the purchaser’s responsibility.

Before 2010, the council was in effect maintaining benches in perpetuity but decided to end the practice due to cost.

In 2018, a motion was passed to shorten this period to 20 years.

Wooden benches such as the ones shown to have been set alight cost families £3,925, while a metal bench costs £1,965 with a 20-year maintenance warranty included.

Another council employee added they were told to tell those who rang up querying about their benches were to be told they had “no interest” in speaking to them.

According to figures in a council report, repairing the benches would have cost the council more than £33,000.

'Regrettable' policy had not been followed

Decommissioned benches are usually disposed of by being broken up by workshop staff, but the council said it was regrettable this process had not been followed.

This should only happen 12 months after the bench is removed and an owner cannot be contacted.

A spokesman for the council said: “We have a very clear policy in place to decommission benches respectfully when they reach the end of their life.

“This involves storing the benches and plaques and reaching out to donors to discuss future arrangements and this was correctly followed.

“Standard practice is to recycle the parts of the benches which can be reused and very regrettably this part of the process was not followed.

“An investigation is underway to understand why this has happened and appropriate action will be taken.”