A SENIOR Swindon councillor has defended the authority after research suggested it was paying thousands of pounds to keep and maintain empty buildings in the town centre.

Pressure group the Taxpayers’ Alliance has said the empty local authority buildings across the country are costing council taxpayers millions of pounds.

But Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for the town centre, Dale Heenan, says the authority’s property team actually makes a surplus, so no money is lost to the taxpayer.

The study says that, in the south west, the cost of keeping 417 properties maintained cost £1.22 million over two years, 2016 and 2017.

In Swindon, over the same 24-month period, the group’s figures added up to £26,899, for 41 buildings.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “Councils have a duty to maintain properties for future tenants and owners, so of course some costs will be involved.

“Many people will be startled by the total cost of maintaining empty properties and want an explanation as to why these haven’t been used or sold by the council.

“At a time when families are struggling with the cost of living, and sky-high council tax bills, it’s important that local authorities do all they can to ensure that they are making decisions with taxpayers in mind.”

But Coun Heenan said that no council tax money was actually spent, in net terms, on the buildings.

He said: “I admire the work of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, but they do like to go for the easy headline.

"This time, they have combined two years of data, so the reality of Swindon’s £26,899 is actually an average cost of £25 per month per building. The report also doesn’t take into account that in Swindon, the Conservatives have set the council’s property team the goal to generate a profit – and it does.

“Yes, controversially, not a single pound of council tax money is spent on empty properties because of the council’s approach.

“Only by being more commercial can we stop the constant talk of budget cuts. This should be encouraged and not criticised. I am sure there are people who want to quibble over £480 for insurance and maintenance of a council-owned Farm in Wroughton, £465 at the bowls cub near the County Ground, or £24 at Nythe Primary school or investing in the David Murray John Tower and the town centre sites and what I say to that is go right ahead – I think our council does a remarkably good job with giving residents value for money in this area.

“Swindon has one of the lowest council tax rates in the UK, and is £200 less than Labour-run Bristol, Oxford and Reading.

“There is always something that can be done better, but on this occasion the Swindon council property team should be praised for making money that can be spent on important local services.”

Among the buildings which were empty for at least some of the time during 2016 and 2017 include levels six, seven and eight of the DMJ building, the Cricketers Arms pub in Emlyn Square and a handful of public lavatories, including ones in John Street multi-storey car park, Evelyn Street in Old Town, Highworth Road in Stratton St Margaret, and Eldene Village Centre.