Dundee taxpayers could be left picking up an enormous £4.4 million bill after a city council blunder during roof repairs.
The error has seen hundreds of council homes in Dundee fall beneath legal British safety standards.
An opposing councillor has claimed the work, which will take two and a half years to fix, could “almost bankrupt” the city council and see council tax rise significantly.
Councillors will be told next week the blunder affects 450 houses that had new roofs installed.
The problem surrounds a change in British Safety Standard regulations in 2015 that the council failed to pick up until late 2019.
Papers leaked to The Courier reveal the full extent of the issue — affecting 262 owners and 894 tenants.
Leader ‘beyond furious’
The leader of the council, John Alexander, says he is “beyond furious” that the situation was allowed to happen in the first place.
Mr Alexander said: “This is a ridiculous and unacceptable situation which should never have arisen.
“It is beyond any comprehension that the processes, including checking of completed works, have failed so significantly in identifying this error.
“I am beyond furious that £4.4 million is required to be spent to rectify this, as are the other 28 councillors.
“The SNP group will be seeking an external viewpoint and their insight into the failure in processes that led to this situation arising and coming before committee, in addition to an internal audit.”
Millions of pounds of work needed
A report to the council’s Policy and Resources Committee by the council’s executive director of city development, Robin Presswood, and executive director of neighbourhood services, Elaine Zwirlein, explains the full extent of the problem.
The report states: “The purpose of this report is to inform committee on a review of working practices on roofs installed by Construction Services (CS) and inspected by the Council Clerk of Works (CoW) in the period 2015 to 2019.
It adds: “Officers have concluded that the roof installations during this period did not meet best practice as set out in the British Standards.
“Works to be undertaken to bring the affected roofs up to the standard recommended in British Standards is an estimated £4.4m.”
Labour group leader Kevin Keenan says he fears the situation could break the back of the already cash-strapped city council.
He said: “In normal times, the council’s uncommitted reserves fund would sit at around £5m.
“Should the council have to meet this £4.4m cost from this level of reserves, then the administration would without a doubt have sunk the ship and left this city almost bankrupt.
“This year we have Covid recovery funds which will now be diverted to address the recovery of this administration-made disaster.
“The administration has opened up consultation asking for public’s view in advance of setting next year’s council tax.
“I would not be surprised if they seek to substantially increase the council tax to help address this gross error.”
Issue centres on ’tile fixings’ in roofs
Council officers are seeking the approval of councillors to carry out the work which they anticipate will take place over two and a half years.
The report states: “In 2015, the British Standard covering the installation of roof tiles was revised to reflect the increasing frequency of wind events in the UK.
“One of the significant changes was for increased numbers of tile fixings to be incorporated into both new-build and replacement roofs to ensure long term durability of the roof tiles.
“A significant number of British Standards are not legally binding including BS5534, (the one in question here), but are recognised as best practice in the construction industry.
“Although the appropriate code revision was incorporated into works specifications, the implications of the changes to BS5534 were not transferred to site by construction services or picked up through site inspections by Dundee City Council’s clerk of works until the issue was identified late 2019.”
Matter came to light after complaint
The report adds that “corrective action” was implemented in January 2020 but by that time 450 roofs had already been installed below the required standard.
The matter only came to light after a complaint from a property owner whose roof was upgraded by the council.
It adds: “While this initial complaint was made in late 2019, a number of factors have meant that it has taken some time to bring this matter to committee for consideration.
“Upon receipt, the complaint was initially investigated by council officers but this was significantly hampered by the restrictions placed on council services by the introduction of the first Covid-19 lockdown when all non-essential activity was severely curtailed.”
Council leader says news shocked him
Mr Alexander says news of the error came out-of-the-blue.
He said: “I think however that it’s a reach for the Labour group to suggest that the members of the administration group should have been up the scaffolding checking the tiles and the public will see that for what it is, pathetic electioneering.
“The administration have had the exact same amount of involvement in these projects as Labour and the other political parties.
“We all signed off the tenders and expected the works to be done to the appropriate standards, detailed in the tender.”
He continued: “Our administration will work with the other political groups to ensure that the mistakes and failures of the process that led to us getting here are rectified, in addition to the roofs themselves.
“There has been no reduction or compromise on the skills involved in the delivery of these projects, particularly from a health & safety point of view. Budgets are not to blame for this failure and Labour should tread carefully in making such ill-informed suggestions.
“We must all hold the council to account for this failure and I will be at the front of the queue in seeking answers. I am furious, to say the least.”