Birmingham City Council has been criticised for spending £400,000 on scaffolding around a crumbling building which it may sell.
For the last nine months the authority has been paying an outside contractor to provide scaffolding for the Clock Tower in Harborne.
The money is coming from the Adults and Communities budget – one of the departments which is facing the toughest cuts in next year’s spending review.
The 130-year-old Grade II-listed building is run by the Adults and Communities Directorate which has been told it is the department which will bear the brunt of the massive cutbacks in April.
Since the 1960s, the Clock Tower has been used as an adult education centre, but it closed in July when a survey revealed it was structurally unsafe due to years of neglect on the maintenance and repair programme.
In March the council was forced to put up scaffolding when slates starting falling from the roof onto the pavement below.
More than 100 adult education classes held at the Clock Tower have been transferred to other sites in south Birmingham.
But since then – faced with a massive repair bill and a need to sell off assets to plug the black hole in its finances – the council has decided to put the building up for sale. But there will be a condition that the new owner retains it for community use.
When the cost of the scaffolding was revealed during a meeting of Harborne ward committee, residents were shocked and questioned the amount.
Derrick Clarke, a conservation architect and a member of the Harborne Society, said he feared the council had been overcharged.
“I have recently worked on a project to renovate the National Trust’s Hanbury Hall in Worcestershire – a much larger building – where the total scaffolding bill for the whole year was £650,000,” he said.
“How can it cost £400,000 to put scaffolding around the Clock Tower?”
Another resident Harry Takhar said: “The adults and communities budget is paying out £60,000 per month – who authorised this uncompetitive charge?
“I have been told by a scaffolding firm that the cost would be £45,000 set-up costs for 14 weeks and then £2,200 per month thereafter – considerably cheaper than what the council is paying.”
He also asked why the council did not take the advice given to it free of charge earlier in the year by Mr Clarke, an expert in such matters.
Council leader and Harborne councillor Mike Whitby defended the cost, saying the process for hiring the scaffolding had gone through the usual competitive tendering procedure.
He also pledged that the Clock Tower would remain a community building and would not be knocked down.
“The issue of ownership is flexible – the days when the public sector can manage a building ad infinitum are gone,” he said.
The community consultation on the Clock Tower’s future will run until February 11. Members of the public are invited to have their say via forms available in Harborne Library.