Edinburgh City Council is set to close the book on the controversial ‘statutory repairs’ saga – by admitting it cannot recoup £2.3m of debt owed to the council by affected homeowners.
The system, now only used for emergency repairs, allowed the council to arrange essential repairs for shared tenements.
Council tenants received the repairs for free, while homeowners received bills – some totalling tens of thousands of pounds.
The scandal surrounding the property conservation department, which oversaw the common repairs service, first emerged in 2011 when hundreds of Edinburgh residents complained of overcharging and poor workmanship.
Police were called in to investigate allegations of fraud, and while no one faced criminal charges, a number of employees were dismissed as the council admitted the service had been mismanaged.
Subsequently, the council commissioned independent audits of all relevant projects and subsequently issued invoices to the value of £16,766,972.11 to owners who had works carried out on their property.
However, the local authority is now admitting it cannot recoup £2.3m of the bills and is writing off the debt.
A confidential report, which the council has tried to keep out of the public domain, is set to be discussed in private at Thursday’s finance committee meeting.
Rob Munn, Leith Walk councillor and SNP convener of the finance committee, said: “First of all, I’m extremely disappointed that details from a private report have been leaked into the public domain. This is unhelpful and potentially harmful.
“A great deal of work has gone into resolving the complex legacy issues associated with the former property conservation service.
“All outstanding projects were independently evaluated, with 7400 invoices issued – the vast majority of which were paid in full.
“For those that weren’t, our debt recovery process has been robust and fair throughout and has resulted in an overall payment rate of 84%, recouping in excess of £14m for the public purse.
“It’s important to note that this is a ‘write-off’ for accounting purposes only and comes at no additional cost to the council.
“The debt remains due and, as and when affected properties come up for sale, we’ll seek to negotiate a settlement against the outstanding amounts.”
Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart councillor Andrew Johnston said: “It is really unfortunate that over a decade on the council is still grappling with the historical problems of the statutory repairs saga.
“It is clear significant time and resources have been put into chasing money owed but we need assurances that when the properties are sold, every effort is made to recover outstanding debts, especially as Edinburgh City Council continues to be so badly under-funded by the Scottish Government.”
Fellow Fountainbridge and Craiglockhart councillor Gavin Corbett added: “The past mismanagement of the former property conservation service was one of the big blights on the council when I first became a councillor in 2012 and navigating a way out of it was painstaking.
“So it is not surprising that there is a big hangover of debts that will only now be settled as and when properties are sold.
“The big challenge is that the same problems of common repairs to flats and tenements – roofs, chimney stacks, walls and drains – remain.
“Barely a week goes by without masonry falling loose from high up on a 100-year-old building.
“The shared repairs service now in place deals well with advice and stepping in to help private owners where necessary.
“But there is a long overdue overhaul of common property needed in Scotland to make good maintenance, inspection and shared responsibility the norm.”
By local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson