£300,000 cost of empty Sheffield properties

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Cash-strapped Sheffield Council is facing calls for an investigation over why it is set to pay £300,000 a year in business rates for empty properties.

The predicted £304,000 bill for 2013-14 dwarfs £158,000 last year and £98,000 in 2011-12.

The figures were revealed by former cabinet member for finance Coun Bryan Lodge after a question by opposition Liberal Democrats.

The doubling in expenditure on rates for empty buildings comes as the council battles to make £50 million of cuts to its overall budget.

Lib Dems say the cost of empty buildings is more than the £140,000 needed to pay running costs for the city’s 16 threatened community libraries if they are looked after by community groups.

The council says it can only afford to pay running costs for five of the libraries.

Coun Andrew Sangar, Sheffield Council’s Liberal Democrat finance spokesman, said: “At a time when every penny counts, it’s hard to understand why so much money has been squandered on empty council properties and why this bill continues to grow.

“These statistics show clearly that Labour politicians simply don’t have a grip on the city’s finances.

“Campaigners have fought hard to keep open threatened local libraries.

“They’ll be disappointed to learn that Labour bosses have such disregard for local taxpayers’ money.”

Sheffield Council said growth in business rates for empty buildings is temporary and due to buildings becoming empty as departments are concentrated in a small number of sites to save money.

In Sheffield city centre, many offices have been relocated to the giant Moorfoot building, which the council wholly owns, rather than paying to rent properties elsewhere.

The raised cost of business rates is from when former office accommodation has been vacated by staff, while the sites are marketed and stand empty.

The council said it hoped the situation would be resolved as empty properties are sold or handed back to owners.

At other sites, the council is trying to reduce the cost of empty buildings by moving services inside, such as at Sorby House, Burngreave.

The controversial building could become the area’s new library – if enough volunteers are willing to keep it running.