Seat of power or a bum deal for taxpayers?

IT'S a controversy which threatens to unseat those at the very heart of democracy in Edinburgh.

The city council's decision to blow 100,000 on new furniture for the City Chambers has already been criticised as an unnecessary extravagance at a time when belts are being tightened.

Now senior councillors have joined the chorus of disapproval after being shown exactly what the city is getting for its money.

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The 500 chairs which will grace the debating chamber were today described as "cheap and shoddy" and not worth a tenth of the price.

One councillor said: "I love furniture and I would be seriously concerned at handing over 50 for these. I've never seen such rubbish in my life."

City leader Councillor Ewan Aitken today said he had not seen the chairs himself but it was important to make sure they reflected the building and its place in the city.

Around 60 chairs will be bought and upholstered in leather to match the debating chamber's carpet, while new desks will have a leather inset with the council's crest.

The decision to buy new furniture for the chamber was criticised by unions and pressure groups after it was voted through by councillors following a 30-minute debate.

The debate was sparked by a report which concluded the modern beech chairs and desks currently used at full council meetings were "out of keeping with the historic space" - both with the current decor and a planned 2 million refurbishment.

But the Tories, Lib Dems and SNP wanted to spend even more money on repairing historic desks and chairs built especially for the council in 1904, which have largely been in storage for around six years.

The new chairs will cost 37,000, or 500 each, and the desks 63,000, around 1000 each, with a total cost of 100,000.

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After inspecting one of the new chairs in the City Chambers, a senior councillor told the Evening News they were tacky, cheap stained beech.

"It's the sort of nondescript chair you'd walk past. If this costs 500 we should be seriously looking at this.

"I expected at prices like these it would be something fabulous. I don't think we need new furniture but if we do it's definitely not one of these things," he said.

His criticisms were seconded by another Labour councillor who slammed the "shoddy" chairs as a far cry from the historic chairs.

He said: "I sat in it and got up and it shook. It's cheap and it's shoddy. We are doing the wrong thing buying them. The old ones are lovely, really good workmanship and go with the status of the chambers. I think they should have made councillors aware of the comparison."

Council officials said it would cost 102,520 to repair the historic desks and chairs which were removed from the chamber several years ago, on top of annual transport, storage and set-up costs of 20,400. The desks are large and heavy and as the chairs cannot be stacked very few can be stored at the City Chambers.

Cllr Aitken said he would be keen to make sure the new chairs were of a suitable quality.

He said: "I haven't seen them but it's important we have something of the right standard for the building.

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"It was disappointing we spent so long debating it when there are more important things to discuss.

"Because it's such a minor thing I left it to others to deal with but I will have a look now to see what's on offer."