INSPECTORS who slated a council's housing repairs and maintenance service are paying a follow-up visit in March.

Wear Valley District Council came under fire from the Audit Commission in November 2001, when a report said it was unlikely to improve on its poor score of no stars.

Housing director Michael Laing said the service had improved since the commission's last inspection.

Then inspectors photographed syringes, graffiti and filthy bathrooms in homes classed as "ready to let" and found 50 gas appliances left unchecked for more than a year.

They said there was a general neglect of some council estates, and they had found wasted resources despite tight budgets, poor consultation and monitoring, and a repairs system weighed down by bureaucracy.

Mr Laing said: "We have cut the waiting time for repairs and appointments and our gas safety system complies with the law. We know we have made improvements and recognise there is more we can achieve."

The council had until today to present 115 pieces of evidence to the inspection team, which arrives on March 3.

At the same time, under Government rules on Best Value, the service has gone out to tender and could be handed over to a private company in October. Firms from across the country are competing for the contract.