Council repairs cash defended

COUNCIL chiefs have defended “unjustifiable” costs of tens of thousands of pounds for improvements and repairs to their buildings.

The claim that Hartlepool Borough Council was spending from a “bottomless pit” was denied by Dave Stubbs, the council’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, who said any improvements would be beneficial for the long-term value of the local authority’s assets.

Concerns were expressed about £165,000 being spent on boiler repairs, and £186,000 for a revamp to the Civic Centre steps.

The concerns came during a meeting of the council’s scrutiny co-ordinating committee, when a capital monitoring report featuring costs of various areas of council spend was presented.

One councillor pointed out that it had cost £165,000 to replace the boiler at Mill House Leisure Centre, which was significantly higher than other boiler repairs at council-owned venues.

Mr Stubbs said the Mill House boiler had a huge swimming pool and a large building with showers to heat, so the costs would be higher than other boilers.

He added that around 15 years ago there had been a lot of trouble with the boiler, and said: “We have been patching that boiler up in Mill House for a number of years.

“It’s got to the point now where we had an assessment done at Mill House and in terms of its life span, it’s there for a few years yet.”

He said without such repairs, the centre may have had to be shut down.

The councillor spoke about the current £186,000 of repairs being done to the front of the council headquarters.

He added: “How do you justify that to the people you represent when it’s going into not just hundreds of thousands but four, five, six million on the Civic Centre?”

Mr Stubbs said: “All of these are reported through the council’s capital funding team.

“Yes, in some areas it does seem a bottomless pit. What’s the alternative? Health and safety has to be done.”

He said the improvements to the Civic Centre frontage had been progressing quicker than expected and that “we had managed to get more for our buck” including extra work to two other sets of steps.

Mr Stubbs said he accepted that “to the public and yourself it looks like we are throwing good money after bad”, but he said the building needs to be maintained as a “viable asset” in case it ever needs to be sold and must be maintained to high standards.

The council needs to save £15m over the next three years as a result of national budget cuts, with £6.7m having to be cut from the 2012-13 budget.