14 October 2021
By Green councillor Joanna Wright
Bath and NE Somerset Council prides itself on its significant portfolio of properties that it owns and leases across the city of Bath. These 1200 properties, with a current capital value of more than £500 million, are an important fabric to how we all live and work in the area.
In recent months I was contacted by a resident who runs a local business with approximately 10 members of staff (who all live in B&NES) and was told how the council had sent them a dilapidations bill of £45,000 pounds when they decided to move from their council-leased property. This firm had been encouraged to lease a council premises by the council’s business support team, whilst Bath Unlimited regularly use this business to promote working in Bath.
After 4 years of renting, including during the pandemic, the council sent this local firm a report that included fixing defects to the property next door, repairing the building from the many years of multiple leasing, and a demand to reinstate radiators that had never existed.
Over many months I worked with this local business to question the advisory surveyors report and dilapidations bill they had been sent and, more importantly, the process that the council was operating to make this claim. All the employees of the local firm had families in the local area and were genuinely concerned that this £45K bill would bankrupt their business. The distress to them and their families was palpable. If this business had been lost it would not only have affected the employees, but the wider community and their involvement in all our lives.
My regular emails to senior officers at B&NES on the matter asking for a proper investigation of this case were eventually listened to. I instigated being present at a meeting between the local business and senior officers who clearly had little if any knowledge of the paperwork between the council and the business owner on the said dilapidations. At that meeting I made clear that Officers were to respond within one working week on the costs that the council would charge. The local business knew that another tenant wanted the building, yet the paper-work to release them was finally sent just days before they end of their contract. Again I sent an email asking for a credit note and formal letter to be delivered by end of the day.
The Council has now agreed to waiver all dilapidation costs. This is a significant victory, but it took 7 months of despair for the council to reach this point, causing a great deal of distress to many in our community. I have now taken this matter to the Chair of the corporate policy development and scrutiny panel, Cllr Karen Warrington, for investigation. The councils’ website states: “Our service teams are committed to providing a high quality service and we will always respond to customers and tenants in a professional, timely and constructive way.”
Cllr Richard Samuel, Deputy Leader and cabinet member for economic development and resources, has been leading on this portfolio for over two years. It is clear from recent stories that other council owned properties are causing issues for those who are leasing them. If the council wants businesses to rent out their properties, all buildings should be kept in a good state of repair and all companies they work with should be responded to a a timely and fair way.
It is clear that the council property team do have to follow procedure. However, the length this process has taken, coupled with the expectation of returning the property to a standard that was not stated in full when this company took on the lease, does seem to be an ongoing issue for this local business. It would appear that other local businesses also face this problem when leasing properties from B&NES.
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