Council buildings in ‘bad state’

8 Jun 09
More than a quarter of local authority buildings in Scotland are in poor or bad condition, a watchdog survey has shown

8th May 2009

By David Scott in Edinburgh

More than a quarter of local authority buildings in Scotland are in poor or bad condition, a watchdog survey has shown.

According to the Accounts Commission, which oversees local government spending, there is a property maintenance backlog of at least £1.4bn and councils need to develop better strategies and systems for managing their assets.

In a report published on May 7, the commission said 27% of the 12,400 council-owned property assets included in the survey were in poor or bad condition. It added that 23% were unsuitable for the services being provided for them. More than 1,550 buildings – 14% – failed in both respects.

The commission stressed that the buildings consumed a great deal of resources, including energy and maintenance costs, cleaning and security. They also needed to offer good access for people using them so that services could be provided effectively.

However, just 40% of councils had strategies for managing and maintaining property and only a third thought further ahead than the next five years about what services they will need.

‘There is little evidence that building use is being effectively challenged or scrutinised by councillors,’ the report added.

Commission chair John Baillie said councillors and council officials should be encouraged to take a much more active approach to assessing council assets.

He said: ‘They need to be better at planning much further ahead, such as in the provision of new buildings. This is all part of providing best value services to local people.’

The report showed that councils spent more than £136m on property maintenance in 2007/08. But it said too much of this was ‘reactive’ rather than planned, leading to a property maintenance backlog of at least £1.4bn. The figure is likely to be higher as nine of the 32 councils were unable to provide backlog information.

Two-thirds of councils said the backlog was increasing. ‘Unless the backlog is tackled, there is a risk that buildings currently in satisfactory condition will deteriorate,’ the commission warned.

Baillie acknowledged that councils were facing a very difficult financial outlook but said building maintenance cuts would make backlogs worse and lead to higher costs. ‘It is essential that councils review and improve their performance on asset management,’ he added.

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