MSPs call for Borders Housing Association probe

MSPs are gravely concerned about the crisis-hit housing association. Picture: Kenny Smith
MSPs are gravely concerned about the crisis-hit housing association. Picture: Kenny Smith
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SCOTLAND’s housing minister and an independent regulator have been urged to launch an investigation into “gross negligence” at a scandal-hit registered social landlord.

MSPs from across the political spectrum at Holyrood have expressed “grave concerns” about Scottish Borders Housing Association (SBHA) following an investigation by The Scotsman.

The organisation has been widely criticised over its failure to evict James Armstrong, a tenant convicted of behaving in a threatening and abusive manner towards academic Dr Eamonn O’Neill and his family.

As revealed yesterday, staff claim there is a “climate of bullying set from the top” at SBHA, according to a confidential union survey. A whistleblower also told The Scotsman management are presiding over a culture of blame, fear, and threats.

Christine Grahame MSP yesterday wrote to Michael Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Housing Regulator (SHR) asking what SBHA has told it about the O’Neill case.

Earlier this month, Margaret Burgess, the housing minister, said SHR was “satisfied” the association was dealing with a formal complaint in the “appropriate manner”. However, Ms Grahame described those claims as “quite breathtaking”.

The SNP MSP also intends to write to the association’s chief executive, Julia Mulloy, seeking information on how it dealt with the O’Neills, and raising the allegations of a “prevailing bullying culture”.

She said: “The SBHA board seems to think everything was hunky dory. These issues are gross negligence, particularly with regards [to] Dr O’Neill’s case – we know now how the tenancy could have been ended but was not.”

Yesterday, lawyers for Dr O’Neill filed notice of a writ for damages to Harper Macleod, the SBHA’s legal representatives.

Alex Johnstone, the Scottish Conservatives shadow housing minister, said: “I am gravely concerned at the ongoing accusations being levelled at SBHA, which now include damning complaints from staff.

“I believe that the housing minister must intervene to ensure that these complaints are being investigated fully, and I wholeheartedly support calls to refer SBHA to the SHR.”

His Scottish Labour counterpart, Elaine Murray, said the catalogue of concerns was “undermining” SBHA’s ability to deliver the service it is supposed to.

She added: “Despite attempts by the management and now the minister Margaret Burgess to deal with these complaints, there is clearly a growing concern.

“I believe it is in the interests of management, staff and tenants for these allegations to be properly investigated and I think it would be appropriate for the SHR to take this forward.”

A spokesman for SBHA, which has nearly 6,000 tenants, said: “SBHA liaises regularly with the SHR and communicated with them on this case and will continue to keep them informed.”