Statutory Repairs Scandal: Scheme rethink ‘could be throwing baby out with bathwater’

Alasdair Rankin
Alasdair Rankin
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A SENIOR civil servant who drew up Scottish Government housing policy has urged city leaders to keep its controversial property repairs system.

Richard Grant said the city council could not afford to weaken the scheme set up to prevent Victorian tenements crumbling – despite the ongoing scandal surrounding the system.

Alasdair Rankin

Alasdair Rankin

Unique to Edinburgh, the scheme involves the local authority sending in contractors to carry out communal repairs without the consent of homeowners – who are then billed for the work.

However, all but emergency work has been frozen while police and specialist auditors from Deloitte investigate claims of wrongdoing. At least 20 staff at the council’s property conservation department have been suspended.

Mr Grant, a retired civil servant who co-ordinated the work of the Housing Improvement Task Force for government ministers in 2003, which paved the way for the creation of the system in Edinburgh, said city leaders were “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”.

He is one of around 1000 homeowners to submit comments to city chiefs as they attempt to redesign the system following its collapse.

Despite the scandal, many city residents reiterated his comments, suggesting it was sound in principle and that the problem was down to flawed management.

Mr Grant, from Newington, wrote: “It is generally accepted that the statutory notice arrangements, which allow the council to step in and ensure works are undertaken, have worked reasonably well for many years at little or no cost to the council. Indeed, closing the service could be seen as a clear case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We are, therefore, strongly opposed to this decision and suggest that it should be reversed.”

Council leaders are currently designing a new system which would leave it to homeowners of communal properties to agree how to handle work.

It would mean council officials would only use statutory notice powers as an “option of last resort” where owners could not agree a course of action.

Green councillor Gavin Corbett, a member of the new committee designed to oversee the fallout from the scandal, said the old property conservation service ran into “horrendous difficulties” but that there needed to be some form of system.

“The overwhelming message from the consultation is that the council needs to get its sleeves rolled up in providing a solution.”

Alasdair Rankin, the city’s finance leader, who is tasked with overseeing the introduction of the new system, said: “We’re now in the process of analysing the results and comments [of the consultation], which will be reported to councillors soon.”