COURT chiefs called out an engineer on a 30-mile round trip – to replace batteries in a remote control.
Astonished staff at Dundee Sheriff Court had to wait as the technician made the special trip from Forfar last Tuesday to swap the dud batteries for new ones.
“Fixing” the remote – which controlled the courtroom’s air conditioning – took about 30 seconds, according to bemused legal insiders.
Setting aside the technician’s time and lost court time, the bizarre trip would have cost at least £15 in petrol and car wear-and-tear – all for the sake of a £1 pair of batteries.
Critics have slammed officials for failing to take a common sense approach.
Staff claim they made the obvious suggestion of checking the batteries before the engineer was dispatched but say this was vetoed by management.
The Scottish Court Service today insisted the trip was necessary because the nature of the “fault” had to be “ascertained”.
But court insiders, who claim the engineer was actually sent on a 130-mile round trip from Edinburgh, said the bizarre call-out had been the “talk of the steamie” at Dundee Sheriff Court.
One said: “This is a ridiculous waste of money and time.
“The guy was sent out and had to come all that way for about half a minute’s work.”
He added: “While he was here his bosses told him to go to other jobs in Forfar and Perth but that only happened after he was here.
“How much time an effort has gone into that, not to mention the cost of petrol?
“In the end it’s the taxpayer who pays for it.”
The Taxpayers’Alliance also criticised the court management for failing to check the batteries before calling out a specialist.
Chief Executive Matthew Elliott said: “It doesn’t take a genius to check if the batteries in the remote are flat before hauling in an engineer to fix the appliance. If managers had applied a bit of common sense in this case they could have avoided wasting time and taxpayers’ money.
“When savings need to be made bureaucrats can’t afford not to take simple, practical steps before spending taxpayers’ money on costly call outs.”
A Scottish Court Service spokeswoman said: “A report that there was an unidentified fault with ventilation equipment in the custody unit at the court in Dundee was logged with the external Facilities Management contractor, in accordance to procedure.
“The closest engineer was dispatched from Forfar to rectify the fault. It was ascertained at that point that a remote unit required replacement batteries.
“The travel and repair were covered under the overall Facilities Management contract, so there was no additional direct cost to public funds.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that the Scottish Court Service management vetoed a staff suggestion to change the remote’s batteries. The incident was reported as an unidentified fault. The engineer concerned was not despatched from Edinburgh but from Forfar.”
It is not the first time officials have been accused of overkill when dealing with minor incidents.
In November 2010 Edinburgh City council spent more than £400 on stewards to patrol during an international rugby match on an open-air screen in the city centre – only for staff to outnumber the spectators. At one point of the match the five stewards were keeping an eye on just two sports fans.
Almost a third of Sheriff Courts in Scotland are facing closure as the Scottish Court Service (SCS) struggles to deal with a 20% budget cut imposed by the government.
As many as 15 of the country’s 49 sheriff courts could close and the number hosting jury trials could be dropped from 47 to just 14 under SCS proposals.
The SCS has already identified 20 Sheriff or Justice of the Peace courts which are “within reasonable travelling distance” of another and therefore vulnerable to being closed.
This list includes sheriff courts at Dornoch, Duns, Kirkcudbright, Tain, Peebles, Rothesay, Lochgilphead, Alloa, Cupar, Dingall, Forfar, Haddington, Stonehaven, Selkirk and Lanark.
Justice of the Peace courts at Kirkcaldy, Annan, Cumbernauld and Coatbridge are also threatened.