There have been attempts in some quarters to paint the Deloitte report into the property repairs scandal as some kind of whitewash.
The presence in the report of redacted passages and a lack of clarity about some matters could lead you to conclude that Deloitte colluded with the council to cover up what really went on.
Well that won’t wash with me. It has to be borne in mind that there are still ongoing investigations, including police inquiries, plus disciplinary situations, and most important of all, a perfect storm of legal cases heading the council’s way. That’s why I am more than surprised that Deloitte’s report was so thorough and frank.
As well as the main general conclusion that money is unlikely to be recovered from the contractors who carried out the work, Deloitte says openly that the council does not have all the evidence to prove that all the repairs were necessary.
I was stunned to read that – in my long-ago days as a council employee you had to fill in forms to claim a bus fare and also have the evidence in the form of a ticket. Now we know that documents relating to repairs running into thousands of pounds are at best incomplete.
The legal cases I mentioned will emanate from people who think they have been unfairly billed, or who still have to pay, for statutory repairs that the council can’t prove were necessary.
I note the name of Patrick McGuire of Thompsons solicitors is to the fore in representing clients who think they have been or may be about to be fleeced by a process which was so dodgy that it has been scrapped, replaced by something called the Shared Repairs Service which still retains some statutory notice powers and was itself the result of Deloitte’s damning “Project Power” report last year.
Mr McGuire is a formidable operator, and no stranger to taking on councils and the Government – he has been assisting the families who were victims of the utterly dreadful Mortonhall ashes scandal, and I am happy to join this excellent lawyer in calling for a full public inquiry into that sorry affair which, as I predicted, has now spread across Scotland.
My advice to the council on property repairs bills is this – settle out of court now or at least try to get an early test case going, because there may well be hundreds or thousands of people out there who will put their faith in McGuire and his colleagues, rather than accept what the council blithely tells them. We could end up having years of expensive cases for which the taxpayer will pick up a humongous bill.
Meanwhile, I have another concern – there are still thousands of properties in Edinburgh which are deteriorating by the day with loose brickwork, tottering copings and windows about to fall out.
The new Shared Repairs Service will need to hit the ground running and be nothing short of excellent from here on in. But I still fear that public confidence is shattered, and people may not even want to report problems to the council. That could lead to further tragedies. Must someone else be killed before we see real action to deal with our dilapidated buildings?