Statutory repair firms ‘overcharge by £13.5m’

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HOME-OWNERS and businesses in Edinburgh have been overcharged by £13.5 million for repairs carried out under the city’s statutory notice system, it was claimed today.

And according to one senior councillor, that could be an under-estimate.

Police and independent accountants are carrying out separate investigations into alleged corruption, mismanagement and incompetence at the city council department which runs the statutory repairs scheme.

More than 650 complaints have been received and the number of cases is forecast to top 1000.

The first “working estimate” of the total amount of overcharging is based on a figure of ten per cent of the value of building repairs contracts since 2005.

But former Labour council leader Ewan Aitken suggested the figure could be even higher.

He said: “I have for a long time been very worried about the scale of the problem, particularly as if this is either illegality or incompetence or both, it is a huge sum for the council to have to bear. I’m concerned that this is a conservative estimate. I and my colleagues are getting almost daily complaints from constituents.”

Under Edinburgh’s statutory notice scheme, the council can hire contractors to carry out essential repair work on private property then send the bill to the owners.

But the system has been at the centre of controversy for more than a year amid allegations of fraud and corruption.

Council workers have been accused of cosying up to contractors, accepting bribes and favouring certain building companies for lucrative jobs, while contractors face accusations of hiking up final bills by as much as 20 times the original estimate, charging for fictional or sub-standard work and completing work that did not need to be done.

Over the past year, around 19 council workers across two departments – the property conservation department, which deals with residential property, and the property repair department, which deals with council buildings such as libraries, schools and care homes – were suspended.

Last month it emerged that four members of staff had been sacked from their roles in the department, while others remain suspended.

Council bosses have warned it could take up to two years to complete their investigations after pledging to examine every single complaint.

A city council spokesman said he did not recognise the ten per cent figure for the overcharging estimate and said the inquiries were ongoing.