Labour and Conservative councillors voted together to impose a massive 6.8% rise in the rents of Stevenage Homes tenants, at the annual rent setting meeting of Stevenage Borough Council last night (25.1.2012). The three strong Liberal Democrat group (Cllrs. Robin Parker [leader], Graham Snell and John Mead) were the only councillors to speak and vote against the rise.

Cllr. Robin Parker said: “In December 2011, the majority Labour group grabbed back direct control of council housing from the former arms length Stevenage Homes and at the time promised that this would be better for tenants. The move had been made possible by relaxation of the previous Labour government’s strict rules around provision of council housing – thanks to the Coalition government. Nevertheless, I warned that the move was not necessarily the best option and that other possibilities should have been looked at first. It seems I was right.”

“I wonder how many Stevenage Homes tenants will think it was such a good idea, now that Labour have just pushed up their rents by nearly 7% – at a time when many residents are severely affected by the national and international economic climate? Even the Coalition government’s cut in income tax (by raising the threshold by £1,000 in the 2011/2012 budget) from which most earners will benefit, is not enough to offset this increase.”

At the meeting, Robin said: “I am not prepared to vote for any increase over 5% at this time. Whilst it is true that a smaller rise will mean a greater rise in future years, I believe that inflation at September 2012 will be less than the 5.6% that it was in September 2011, and that therefore a rise may be slightly more affordable next year.”

The rules for deciding council rent increases are those put in place by the last Labour government and are based on the September Retail Prices Index (RPI) + 0.5% each year. Labour’s plan was to increase council rents to be in line with other social landlords’ rents, over a period of 10 years.

Robin also gave his support to lobbying the Coalition government to relax these rules, particularly at times of high inflation.

The original size of the rent increase was to have been 7.8%, but the reduction to 6.8% was effectively made by using housing balances.

Robin concluded: “Having attended all the meetings of the LSPG (Leaders’ Services Priority Group) since September 2011, which discusses all council budget issues, I was well aware that a large rent increase was planned and I have already made a few small suggestions for increasing income for future years, and I trust that officers will not forget these suggestions – after all, every little helps.”