CONTRACTORS have been hired to speed up the decoration of empty rental flats and allow them to be re-allocated. The Housing Authority has promised to shorten to two months the time for refurbishment to allow the supply of at least 1,600 flats each month. The new measure is prompted by criticisms about public flats being left empty because of delays in refurbishment. In 1991, then director of audit Jeff Hutt criticised housing officials for leaving almost six per cent of their flats empty, and called for urgent action. It now takes up to six months to refurbish a vacant flat. The Government has directed the authority to look into ways to speed up flat supply. Concern about residential flats being left idle rose recently after a Consumer Council report estimated as many as 50 per cent of the 25,000 privately-built flats on sale last year were empty. The Society of Real Estate Agents put the vacancy level at 70 per cent. It believed most of them were in the hands of speculators. At the authority, figures show about 8,200 rental flats are empty, most of them in Kowloon. Authority member Leung Wai-tung, who is dealing with vacant flat problems, yesterday said some applicants were too choosy and turned down offers if the flats were not near MTR stations. Last year, 36 per cent of applicants had refused more than one offer for that reason, and many flats were thus unoccupied for some time, she said. Six regional contractors had been hired this month to look after flat maintenance and refurbishment in a specified region and avoid lengthy tendering procedures, she said. An authority spokesman said: ''With the new measure the refurbishment period can be shortened to two or three months. ''The department is therefore confident that the target of 1,600 units each month can be achieved in the future.''