Statutory repairs scandal fears over tenement plan

Corruption blighted the statutory repairs system. Picture: Callum Bennetts
Corruption blighted the statutory repairs system. Picture: Callum Bennetts
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CITY leaders will consider introducing a new management programme for tenements despite fears of a repeat of the statutory repairs scandal.

Several options are set to go before this Thursday’s full council meeting. One involves bringing in a new “proactive inspection” programme, capable of identifying building faults, that would cost the council £1.4 million a year.

A shared repairs service launched in April only offers emergency advice and responses where a building’s condition is deemed dangerous. It was introduced after scandal engulfed the former property conservation programme, with allegations staff were bribed by some contractors in exchange for lucrative repair projects.

The authority’s handling of the programme – which saw homeowners billed for the work – left it £30m in debt.

The latest report to be considered this week has set out alternatives to expanding the new shared repairs service.

Among those options is a programme whereby property owners are charged about £400 up front for requested building inspections.

A council report said such a move would help identify disrepair and “raise confidence in public safety”.

But the report warned: “Any expansion of the service, particularly into the project management field, carries significant risks for the council. At its most extreme, this risk could lead to similar problems that arose with the previous discredited service.”

Green finance spokesman Councillor Gavin Corbett said: “I’ve been arguing for some time that an expansion of the current very minimal service is inevitable in the future. Even the staunchest critics of the old property conservation regime recognise that in a city of such old buildings and such mixed ownership, intervention is needed where owners simply cannot agree.

“I’ve suggested a ‘staircase’ model, which escalates people from simple advice and assistance where that is enough, through hand-holding in repair management, right up to using statutory powers where an impasse has been reached. The challenge over the next two months is to identify ways of funding that and to rebuild trust in an outward-looking, customer-friendly service.”

Another possibility would be for the council to set up stair meetings to achieve agreement on common repairs.

The cost of that service would be recovered from owners through an initial charge of about £30 a visit. The alternative plan would cost the council roughly £120,000 a year.

Conservative member of the finance committee, Councillor Allan Jackson, said any “proactive” programme would be based on reports made by members of the public, not random council inspections.

But he said: “The way things are working at the moment, the council basically does what it has to do. If something looks dangerous, they fix it. I think they’ll probably stick to that.”

Council leader Andrew Burns said a final report with recommendations on expanding the service would come back before councillors in October, when a decision would ultimately be made.