Slow work on sale of council houses condemned

The council has vowed to pull its socks up in dealing with the sale of council houses to tenants after it emerged that only 11 per cent of sales are completed within an agreed two month timescale.

Members expressed dismay after a report to today’s audit and scrutiny committee outlined “inexplicable delays in progressing transactions … which had not been picked up in the absence of formal complaints from tenants”. There was also “no evidence of keeping tenants and agents updated with progress” on sales.

Only six out of 59 sales in a 20-month period spanning 2009 and 2010 had been completed within two months. Councillor Allison Duncan described the report as the worst he had seen since being elected in May 2007 and said there appeared to be “a communication breakdown across the board”.

Head of legal services Jan Riise said the use of a district valuer who only visited Shetland once every six weeks explained some of the delays. But he acknowledged there were internal issues to be addressed and said he was confident that 80 per cent of purchases could be pushed through within two months.

Mr Riise also pointed out there would be further changes to the right to buy system under new Holyrood legislation being brought in this year. He will report back to councillors on progress later this year.

Chief executive Alistair Buchan said he believed it was important to deal with shortcomings in performance publicly. He added that legal staff often ended up in the spotlight unfairly when systemic issues elsewhere in the organisation emerged: “Lawyers end up getting blamed when the problem doesn’t really start with them,” he said.

Councillor Jonathan Wills said he had spent three decades objecting to the sale of council houses, which he blames for the scale of the housing crisis in the isles. He agreed, though, that tenants seeking to buy their home should be dealt with faster, noting the matter would be “even more embarrassing” if the SIC was seeking to cover it up rather than discuss it publicly.


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