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Highland Council halts the use of contractors for non-essential housing repairs

By Scott Maclennan

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Mould affecting one council-owned property.
Mould affecting one council-owned property.

Highland Council has abruptly announced that it will be cutting off the use of contractors that support its own staff in providing repair and maintenance to local authority owned properties.

A letter from the Housing and Building Maintenance department and seen by the Courier indicates the council will put on “hold non-essential repairs and scale back on the use of contractors” to “ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation.”

The housing and property committee first agreed cuts to repairs and maintenance last November to stem a £3 million overspend and then the budget agreed in March calling for more cuts of £708,000.

The move is likely to prove spectacularly unpopular with tenants who face not just delays to getting repairs but a four per cent hike on rents as well as a further four per cent rise in council tax.

Anger will be fuelled by the fact the council admits on its website that its staff cannot make all the necessary repairs: “You will not always get an appointment with a Council Trades Operative. Sometimes we have to issue work to a subcontractor.”

It remains unclear whether this was just a formal notification following consultation or a bolt from the blue for contractors, some of whom may rely on work from the council.

A letter from the Housing and Building Maintenance department and seen by the Courier states: “I am writing to discuss an important matter regarding our current operations and the need for reducing repairs and maintenance expenditure, and the crucial nature that we take these proactive steps to ensure the long-term sustainability of the organisation.

“After careful evaluation it has become apparent that we must implement measures to reduce our repairs and maintenance expenditure on contractors on the housing revenue account.”

The housing revenue account deals with the cost of carrying out revenue-funded day to day repairs and planned maintenance to council houses and includes the costs of the council’s in-house building maintenance teams.

The letter continues: “Capital works, out of hours, specialist work activities or where we have skills gaps will be unaffected, and it is acknowledged that this will impact certain aspects of our projects and operations.

“Use of Contractors to respond to Emergencies will be directed locally on a case-by-case basis.”

“Therefore, effective immediately, actions have been implemented by the housing service to hold non-essential repairs and scale back on the use of contractors and we understand this will create additional challenges for many and will require adaptability and problem-solving from all of us.

“Rest assured the decision to reduce contractor works is driven solely by the need to improve our financial position and ensure the long-term viability of our organisation.”

The letter concludes thanking contractors for their understanding, underlining that it is not a reflection on their work, and with a request to continue any work that has already been engaged.

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