COUNCIL bosses have rubbished a report which highlighted the local authority's £6m-plus outlay on empty buildings in just one year.

A study by the TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) revealed the district had the second highest spend in Scotland on non-residential properties such as shops, pubs, office blocks and even schools.

Between January 2016 and December 2017, the council forked out £6.3m on a variety of premises across Greenock, Port Glasgow, Gourock and Kilmacolm.

The figure includes money spent on insurance, security and maintenance costs for empty local authority-owned buildings.

Over 50 properties were listed in the report, including empty shop units in places like Greenock's Sir Michael Street, John Wood Street in Port Glasgow and the former Prince of Wales pub, also in the Port town.

Some of the buildings have since been let out, knocked down or are earmarked for demolition.

But the council has defended the figure because nearly all of the £6.3m quoted by the TPA was spent on redeveloping two key sites - £1.8m on the former James Watt Memorial College in Greenock and a £4.5m refurbishment of Kilmacolm Primary.

It says the TaxPayers' Alliance 'appears to be consistently misrepresenting the work of local government in the guise of monitoring public expenditure'. A council spokesman said: "These figures are not a true reflection of the spending in Inverclyde. "Many properties are empty while they are being refurbished before being reoccupied.

"This is exactly the case in Inverclyde.

"Some £2m was spent refurbishing the former James Watt Memorial College in Greenock so that it could be used as office accommodation for the council's environmental services team. "This was a major investment in an iconic building which the council restored to preserve and protect its distinctive architecture. "A further £4.5m was spent refurbishing Kilmacolm Primary to ensure that local children could be educated in a state-of-the-art facility designed to help them achieve their full potential.

"These are positive investments in the public infrastructure of Inverclyde."

Council officials say the study, entitled 'Hollow High Streets', does highlight the struggling retail sector across the UK.

A spokesman said: "The problems with local high streets everywhere are down to issues such as the financial austerity caused by the banking crash, uncertainty over Brexit, out of town retail parks and competition from online retailers, not with local authorities sensibly maintaining their assets.

"All responsible property owners are expected to maintain their buildings, insure them and keep them wind and watertight.

"All local authorities make every effort to market or repurpose empty properties. "Private landlords are in exactly the same position, in terms of paying to maintain empty buildings, particularly after so many were left vacant following the failure of retailers such as BHS, Maplins, Dunnes, Toys R Us and Poundland, to name but a few."