Page last updated at 17:55 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 18:55 UK

Concern over crumbling buildings


The repairs backlog on council buildings is estimated at 1.4bn

A quarter of Scottish council buildings are in poor or bad condition, according to the public spending watchdog.

Audit Scotland said many were unsuitable for the services delivered from them, despite £136m spent on maintenance last year.

The cost of tackling the repairs backlog has reached at least £1.4bn.

Local authority representative body Cosla accused the watchdog of demanding a "Rolls Royce service" for the price of a bus fare.

The report looked at how councils maintain buildings such as schools, care homes, sports centres, office buildings, museums and works depots.

The proportion in "good or satisfactory condition" ranged from 90% in East Ayrshire and Angus to less than 50% in Aberdeenshire and Inverclyde.

Whilst cutting building maintenance may seem attractive, it won't help in the medium to long term
John Baillie
Accounts Commission

Aberdeenshire topped the list for buildings in poor condition, with poor suitability at more than 30%. Glasgow had the fewest in that condition, at 1%.

Only half of councils had strategies for managing and maintaining property and two-thirds did not think further ahead than five years about what services they would need.

Audit Scotland, which prepared the report for the Accounts Commission, said the £1.4bn figure for the maintenance backlog was almost certainly an underestimate, because nine local authorities were unable to provide information.

Accounts Commission chairman John Baillie, said: "Councils are facing a very difficult outlook.

"Whilst cutting building maintenance may seem attractive, it won't help in the medium to long term as it just makes backlogs worse and leads to higher costs.

"It is essential councils review and improve their performance on asset management to ensure they are operating as efficiently and effectively as possible."

'Council bashing'

The report found little evidence that building use was being effectively challenged or scrutinised by councillors.

"We encourage councillors and council officials to take a much more active and dynamic approach to assessing and scrutinising council assets and how they meet people's current and future needs," Mr Baillie added.

"They need to be better at planning much further ahead, such as in the provision of new buildings."

Cosla president Pat Watters said the report was "opportunistic council bashing".

"The bottom line is that buildings require a vast amount of money spent on them on an ongoing basis and this has not always been possible as demands for services and additional funding pressures kick in," he said.

"The commission has to realise that the whole of the public sector is operating in the teeth of the worst recession in living memory."

Mr Watters added: "Once again we have the Accounts Commission demanding a Rolls Royce service, when councils barely have the bus fare."

Challenges ahead

Aberdeenshire Council leader Anne Robertson said: "The information in the audit report is by no means new to us, and we have been very open about our intentions and the challenges that lie before us in achieving them.

"Aberdeenshire Council is a largely rural authority, and our estate is large, incorporating more than 13,115 council houses, 1,552 sheltered houses, 173 school buildings, 17 community centres, plus a variety of children's homes, day centres, care homes, various recreational facilities and the council offices necessary to cover such a wide geographical area."

A spokesman for Inverclyde Council said: "The council in March of this year approved its Corporate Asset Management Strategy to drive forward an office improvement programme and to rationalise existing space and meet the council's aspirations of modern and efficient buildings for service provision to the public, for employees and elected members.

"It is the council's intention to release under-used and revenue-demanding property in order to provide quality accommodation for customers and staff."

He added: "Inverclyde is investing heavily in its schools estate in order to fulfil our pledge that every child in Inverclyde will be in a new or refurbished school by 2023."

Gavin Whitefield, chief executive of North Lanarkshire Council, said: "We are investing a record £112m of capital funding in 2009-10, which will be used to take forward priority issues for residents such as our Schools and Centres 21 programme, the regeneration of our town centres, the Ravenscraig Regional Sports Facility and the improvement of our roads and street lighting networks.

"We recognise there is always room for improvement in the way that the council operates but, in a particularly challenging economic situation, we are continuing to invest significantly in improving the condition of all our properties to provide the best possible facilities and services."

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