BUILDINGS in Edinburgh are so unsafe people should walk in the middle of the road to avoid being hit by falling masonry, the former senior council official has said.
Brian Sibbald, former head of Edinburgh’s scandal-hit property conservation department, says staff couldn’t cope with the amount of work they were given and “lost the plot”.
Police are investigating corruption within Mr Sibbald’s department, with accusations contractors were given special treatment and residents charged thousands of pounds for unnecessary work.
He says there could be a repeat of the Ryan’s Bar tragedy of June 200, when a waitress was killed by a piece of falling masonry.
Mr Sibbald said “Every day in Edinburgh something falls off a building – tiles guttering masonry.
“People would be safer walking in the middle of the street.
“This is a perfect year for another disaster. Will there be another case of Ryan’s Bar?
“If there is another harsh winter, buildings will be in serious trouble.
“I’m not convinced the council is resilient enough to deal with the quantity of work around the city.
“At the moment, only emergencies are being tackled. But this is an old city with Victorian buildings and little maintenance.”
Mr Sibbald, who was head of the department between 2007 and March 2011 when he was suspended, said staff cuts meant they had a rapidly increasing workload.
He said: “We were losing staff despite the increasing workload.
“You were working day after day after day up to your ears in mud.
“We were trying to resolve the situation, but it seemed that the more you did, the more difficult it became.
“The economic climate within the council was dire, there were massive budget cuts and every department was asked to make 2% of savings every year.
“Despite the cuts, the value of works went up from £9.5million in
2005 to £30million in 2010-11.
“The staff just couldn’t cope with the amount of work. We lost the plot.”
Mr Sibbald also detailed the gifts council staff accepted from contractors.
He said: “All the time I used to tell my staff to be aware of their integrity, but some workers did accept hospitality they shouldn’t have. A lot of this hospitality wasn’t recorded.
“When I found out about it, it was recorded and staff were disciplined.
“I came back one Christmas to find the staff had accepted hampers from one contractor.
“They also went on golf days, on trips and accepted bottles of whisky.
“Accepting these things was the height of foolishness.”
He continued: “I accept there was evidence of stupidity and naivety in my department, but not criminality. Did the guys do the jobs to the best of their ability? No, it was impossible.”
Conservative councillor for Colinton and Fairmilehead Jason Rust said:
“I am aware fo constituents reporting what they feel are urgent repairs which are not being considered under the current situation to be emergencies.
“Hopefully, as the investigations are drawn to a successful conclusion, that work can start to be ramped up again with a workforce that is not in the spotlight.”
An Edinburgh council spokesman said emergency works were being completed across the city.
He said: “We have continued to provide an emergency statutory notice service to help deal with problems that might pose a risk to people’s health or safety.
“This has been used many hundreds of times since we suspended the full service and has coped well with the high winds and other pressures.
“However, it is ultimately up to owners to maintain their properties.”
Head of services for communities Mark Turley added: “The council responded strongly to the concerns made about property services by changing the management and beginning an investigation early last year.”