Friday, 26 April 2013

Property Repairs Scandal

The full extent of Edinburgh's property repairs scandal is closer to being uncovered with the long delayed publication of the two Deloitte reports which investigated the scandal. 

The reports were published at noon today (Friday 26 May) on the Council website.  As there are still some disciplinary issues ongoing there are many redactions in the published reports.  The release follows repeated calls from Cllr Cameron Rose, leader of the Edinburgh Conservatives on the Council for the publication of the reports.

Four issues stand out.
  1. The human cost of the scandal: There are 726 official complaints from property owners under review. Each of these represents a group of people who believe they have been dealt with unfairly. Complaints include owners who believe they have been overcharged, had inflated work carried out or received sub standard work.  The majority of these have still to be resolved and the speed is worryingly slow.
  2. The financial cost of the scandal:  By the end of 2012 there still remained almost £40m of uncollected debt owing to Edinburgh Council - a result of the mismanagement.  The scale of the scandal and its cost to the people of Edinburgh is emphasised by this amount being outstanding 9 months after the Project Power report was completed in March 2012.
  3. Release of the report.  Despite repeated claims of openness and transparency by the current administration there has been delay after delay in releasing this information which show some of the extent of the malpractice and mismanagement which has taken place on a very damaging scale.
  4. Corruption and mismanagement: Police proceedings are live in relation to a number of people and companies related to the activity of the Council's Property Conservation and Property Care services. Internal disciplinary proceedings are continuing.
The publication of the two Deloitte reports, even with redactions, is an important, if belated, step in shining a light on what really went on and bringing redress to the many who have suffered - some over many years.  It is not the full story by any means.

The delays in the publication of the reports, the slow response to resolving the outstanding complaints and the delays in recovering legitimate debts, continue to cost the Edinburgh taxpayer dear.

The Labour/SNP administration need to do much more to resolve the blockages preventing quicker redress to the many aggrieved property owners.  The financial losses to the Council need to be addressed more quickly.

The reports can be found here

The Project Power Report was provided to the Council in March 2012 and the Project Solar report in June 2012

Further infomation from Cllr Cameron Rose.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Edinburgh Council's irresponsible "no evictions" policy is unfair

Edinburgh's Administration councillors today ignored their officers' advice and adopted a left-wing "no evictions" policy for those who fall into arrears following Government changes to housing benefit. 

The flawed policy will bring damaging social consequences and is dangerous for three reasons:

1. It is a local attempt to thwart the Government's aims of making Housing Benefit fair to tenants whether they are in the social or private rented sector;

2. It encourages the small numbers affected by Housing Benefit changes to ignore their rent bills meaning rent increases in future for all tenants as the debt builds up;
3. It sends the signal that the Council isn't serious about collecting the money it is owed and could see further increases in rent and Council Tax arrears which can only result in long term reductions in services.

Arguments against adopting the policy are laid out in detail by Edinburgh's professional housing officers in paragraphs 2.31 to 2.36 of this report.

Edinburgh Conservatives proposed the following amendment but were outvoted:

1.     Notes that Housing Benefit payments have doubled in the 10 years to 2010

2.     Notes the need to reduce the increase in total Welfare payments, especially whilst the UK continues to have a large borrowing requirement

3.     Notes that the Housing Benefit measures are not designed to make people move but, for people who are under occupying, to encourage realistic choices about how they will meet the rent on a property which is larger than they need, such as moving into work or increasing working hours

4.     Notes the introduction of measures to reduce the subsidy currently paid to occupants of social housing who under occupy their accommodation

5.     Notes  that in this respect these measures put recipients of Housing Benefit in social rented housing on the same footing as those in private rented housing, where such a standard is already imposed

6.     Notes that in February 2013, of the 25,385 outstanding applications for housing on EdIndex, almost 5,000 applicants classed themselves as overcrowded  

7.     Notes that in recent years around 500 one bedroom Council properties have become available for let each year

8.     Notes the estimate of 3,800 Council tenants who will be affected by the new rules

9.     Notes that the UK Government, the Scottish Government and Edinburgh Council have provided considerable sums to support people who find themselves in severe difficulty in relation to the reduction in Housing Benefit

10. Notes the financial, administrative and other risks outlined in the Managing Arrears Arising from Housing Benefit Under-occupancy report (paragraphs 2.32 to 2.36) concerning the consequences of mixed messages regarding tenants responsibilities, greater risk of tenants getting into longer term debt and its consequences, fairness, legal challenge and reduction in HRA which would reduce resources and the potential for higher rents for all.

11. Notes current council measures (paragraphs 2.19 to 2.30) which detail support for tenants who have fallen into arrears for any reason and the limited circumstances in which action is taken for eviction

12. Resolves not to adopt a ‘no evictions’ policy in respect of arrears deemed to accrue in connection with the Housing Benefit reforms.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Edinburgh Conservatives mark the passing of a woman who changed the world

Comments from Edinburgh Conservative councillors on the passing of Margaret Thatcher below along with some links:

Cllr Nick Cook, Edinburgh's youngest councillor:

"I was all of three years old when Margaret Thatcher left Office. However my first political memories involve the Iron Lady herself. The son of a small businessman, I remember many an evening spent by my father's side, 'working' alongside him at his garage as he educated me, from the perspective of the average voter, about the history of Thatcherism, and how Maggie transformed Britain for the better, both at home and abroad. 
Mrs Thatcher was a Leader firmly on the side of people like my dad who, however modest their aspirations, worked hard to provide a future for their family better than that which they had themselves. As modest as that itself may sound,  it is my enduring memory of Margaret Thatcher."
Cllr Cameron Rose, Edinburgh's Conservative Group leader:
"We easily forget that Margaret Thatcher became prime minister at the height of the Cold War.  In 1979 the world was on a knife edge and Britain was torn with internal strife.  She brought an instinctive sense of justice and purpose to a country which was losing its way.  In the teeth of bitter and rancorous opposition she held course and her government was instrumental in turning Britain into a modern and successful country.  Her crystal clear understanding of the weaknesses of socialism struck a chord across much of the world.  Ironically, many still rail against her name in Scotland though we also benefited from the reforms she initiated and the safer world she left behind.

Although I was not politically active until long after her premiership, I have always been inspired by her principles, her pragmatism, her leadership and, above all her courage.”
Cllr Iain Whyte, former group leader: favourite quote of the day from Sir Malcolm Rifkind:
"She didn't mind being challenged, indeed she listened with great care if she thought the person challenging her knew what they were talking about, and she could change her mind and opinions, but only on the basis of solid evidence and solid argument."
Other quotes about her here.

Other quotes from her here.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Strong demand for larger homes in Edinburgh

Figures obtained from the Council by Edinburgh Conservatives show that around 5,000 of the 25,000 applicants for social housing in the city classed themselves as overcrowded.

The 5,000 applicants for more space compares with 6,500 Council and housing association tenants in receipt of housing benefit who are classed as under occupying their home.  In other words, the number of people under occupying social housing and in receipt of housing benefit is greater than the number of people currently looking for larger accommodation.

Until now, around 500 one bedroom Edinburgh Council properties come up for rent every year.  So there has been limited opportunity for under occupiers to downsize.  However, the new welfare reform rules on under occupancy, which came into operation on 1st April, will create some more movement, enabling more people to have their application for a larger house met.

Cllr Cameron Rose


1. The number of Council and housing association tenants affected is contained in paragraph 2.10 of this report to Edinburgh Council's Policy and Strategy Committee on 4.12.12.
2.  In February 2013, there were 25,385 outstanding applications on EdIndex which where people wishing housing association or Council housing can apply.  Of these just under 5,000 of the applicants indicated on their application form that they are overcrowded or require at least one more bedroom.  These applicants are a mix of Council, housing association or private tenants, owner occupiers, or 'homeless' households.
3.  The number of current tenants to whom the under occupancy rules apply has been slightly revised downwards from 6,500 at the time of the December Report to 6,300 (a downwards revision of 5%) at the end of January 2013.
4.  Recent UK government guidance can be seen  here.