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Duncan outraged by council house damage

VANDALISM, break ins and police raids have cost Shetland Islands Council more than £75,000 in repairs to council houses over the past five years.

Councillors have been told that indirect costs associated with crime-related damage to council houses could push up the final bill to between £600,000 and £2.7 million since 2005.

SIC housing spokesman Allison Duncan told the SIC’s audit and scrutiny committee it was “despicable” if council tenants were causing so much damage to their homes, and the best place for them would be a cave.

He was advised by housing staff that there was no evidence to suggest tenants were responsible for all the damage to council property, while one fellow councillor described his remarks as “illiberal”.

A new computer system has allowed SIC staff to calculate the cost of all kinds of damage to the council’s 1,880 homes.

The figures show that four per cent of homes could expect to be damaged in any one year and that an average of 75 insurance claims were made each year.

The overall cost of damage that was not re-charged to tenants came to almost £300,000 over five years, £220,000 of which was non-crime related.

However safety and risk manager Sandra Pearson said that last year 91 per cent of damage was crime related, including nine break ins, 46 cases of vandalism and 16 police drug raids.

Meanwhile a comprehensive repair and maintenance programme had reduced non crime related damage by 80 per cent, she said.

Ms Pearson said the council needed a long term strategy to change public behaviour through community education, suggesting the council look at following the example of road safety education which begins amongst infants.

She said some people thought the council was “the faceless holder of a bottomless purse” and the message had to go out that everyone needed to work together to reduce expenditure. “Every pound wasted on needless repairs we can’t spend on service provision,” she said.

However councillor Duncan wanted to take a hard line approach. “This is needless damage being done by vandals. I think it’s despicable to say the least when tenants are destroying council property when others would give anything to get a council house,” he said.

He said six houses had cost the council between £1,000 and £5,000 in repairing damage, one house costing £4,387.98 even after recharges, where the tenant has been asked to pay for damage.

One householder had been recharged £3,434, including the cost of repainting, replacing doors and a worktop.

“People who do that type of damage should not have a house…the best place for them is in a cave,” he said.

SIC head of housing Chris Medley pointed out the council has a responsibility as “the landlord of last resort” and had to house people “with a whole range of social problems” and said the answer was teaching people life skills.

Councillor Duncan’s suggestion that council tenants be asked to pay a deposit of up to £2,000 to cover the cost of any damage, which would be returned once they left, was not pursued after legal and bureaucratic questions were raised.

However Mr Duncan said he was looking for solutions to a problem that caused him great concern.

Meanwhile the council is discussing with the local police area commander David Bushell about ways the amount of damage caused during police raids can be reduced.

Infrastructure executive director Gordon Greenhill said that Edinburgh City Council worked with police on raids, providing them with keys or joiners who could remove doors more sensitively than the rams used by the officers of the law.

More than twice as many raids on council houses were carried out in Shetland last year than in any previous year since 2005.