Selby District Council has been forced to halt major housing repair works after forecasting a £2m black hole in its budget.
This year has seen a marked increase in both the number of ‘voids’ – empty council properties – and the level of work required to bring those properties up to a decent, lettable standard.
Senior councillors were alerted to the rising scale of the problem last week by chief finance officer Karen Iveson.
“What that’s doing is fueling the cost of these works to the extent that it’s just not sustainable – so work has been suspended temporarily,” she said.
She said the council would “change tack” on voids and only carry out basic repairs, which would bring the forecast debt down to £1.5m.
Council officers had proposed taking this cash from elsewhere in the housing revenue account (HRA) budget, but council leader Coun Mark Crane and Labour leader Coun Bob Packham raised concerns about doing so without approval from full council.
The HRA is a ring-fenced budget the council uses to manage its spending and income on the the housing stock it owns.
Coun Crane added: “I do think it would be good to take it away and have a look at it and it needs to come to full council as well, because this is an important decision and a big decision – It’s a lot of money for the HRA.”
Councillors were warned that work cannot restart until they give approval for their plan to fill the £1.5m hole.
However, the next meeting of full council is not until February – so a decision may be taken by senior councillors under ‘urgency powers’ if an extraordinary full council meeting is not called before then.
At a meeting of full council on Tuesday, executive member for housing Coun Richard Musgrave told councillors the number of empty council properties had risen to 72.
He added: “It’s an issue that has emerged over the last few weeks and we’re still wanting to get to grips with that because I want to get to the underlying cause of those problems.”
Coun Packham said: “The issue of the voids and the standard of their repair is a very important one to all councillors, so I’d hope that if necessary, we potentially look to have an extraordinary meeting to discuss that issue, because I do think it really is that critical.
“It’s got very long term implications for occupants and for the North Yorkshire Council, because if we only do half a job, we’ll have to do the rest of it some other time.”
Coun Musgrave replied: “We do have a good record of doing properties up to a high standard but that is now causing budgetary pressures.
“We all want to see the work done well. We don’t want to see corners cut which might cost more money down the line.
“It’s quite a hard judgement to make in some ways, but the professional officers are guiding us through this and we’ll bring back some proposals shortly.”