With reference to the letter from ‘The Voice of Many’ (Letters, Stevenage Advertiser, 13 February) I can assure the writer that the Liberal Democrats on Stevenage Borough Council (SBC) agree with him, and are fully aware of the effects of rent increases on the budgets of many tenants, especially at a time of economic difficulties. That is precisely why we refused to support, and indeed voted against, the 6.7% increase in 2012 – whereas all the Labour and Conservative councillors present voted for the 6.7% increase. At the time, inflation was over 5%, and we considered it was too much to inflict a 6.7% rise, on top of the other inflationary pressures on peoples’ budgets.
However, the figures in 2013 showed clearly that a rise this year was inevitable if the housing stock was to have the necessary investment in it and, as I predicted last year, inflation has come down substantially to about 2.7% (still too high, of course) – so we reluctantly supported the rise this year.
On all the other issues raised by the writer, I can confirm that he/she is completely wrong. As a long standing opposition councillor at SBC, I know the facts and they are:
- Every employee of SBC up to Head of Service is not being forced to take a pay cut. They, and those above, have had a pay freeze since the Coalition Government came to power, as part of the necessary savings in government spending to try and reduce the UK deficit.
- Councillors have had no “pay rise” (rise in councillors’ allowances) for 4 years. The allowances are in any case decided by an independent panel and the actual amounts paid to each councillor are available on the SBC web site.
- For the last 4 years, the Liberal Democrats on SBC have proposed a 10% cut in councillors’ allowances, but we were voted down each year by all the Labour and all the Conservative councillors, who voted for no cut in their allowances.
- The writer asks “what is going to happen to all the money taken from employee’s wages?” There is no such money, other than the usual tax, NI and Pensions contributions. Any savings from reduced employee numbers obviously help to balance the budget which, I am pleased to say is now balanced again at SBC – after many years when it overspent each year and relied on a device called negative housing subsidy (now abolished) to survive.
- The Decent Homes money is being received in tranches and the Coalition Government have recently confirmed that it will continue to be received by SBC to continue the good work in improving our housing stock – and it has all been used or earmarked, to date, for this purpose.
- The writer completely misunderstands the meaning of ‘fixed term tenancies’. These would not allow a tenant the right to live in their property after the expiry of a certain term. SBC have decided, quite rightly, not to introduce these but stick with the present system whereby tenants are not forced out after a certain number of years by that fact alone.
- Will youngsters get a choice of council properties? There is still a major shortage of council properties to rent, which can be traced back to the Thatcher years when the (then) government stopped councils building replacement council houses for those that were sold. The Labour government (despite promises) did nothing about this for the13 years it was in power. Under major funding changes now introduced by the Coalition Government, there is now once again the possibility that some new council houses may be provided by SBC, if a surplus can be generated on their Housing budget. This will not solve the housing crisis by any means, but it is a step in the right direction which, at a time of major economic restraint, is very welcome.