At the council house rent setting meeting of Stevenage Borough Council (SBC), on the evening of 29.1.2014, an average rent rise of 5.61%, or £5.23 a week, was forced onto council house tenants, opposed only by the Liberal Democrats. This brings the average rent up to £98.57 a week.

Speaking at the meeting, Liberal Democrat opposition group leader, Cllr. Robin Parker C.C., reminded the council that the average SBC house rent rises in recent years had been:

2010/2011 +2.63%

2011/2012 +6.97%

2012/2013 +6.81%

2013/2014 +5.09%

This is a total compounded increase in the last 4 years of over 23%.

Tonight’s increase brings the total compounded increase in the last 5 years to over 30%.

He said: “Another 5.61% or £5.23 a week (average) is at this time too much for many hard pressed families to find.”

“This is nearly three times the current inflation (CPI) of 2%.”

He also pointed out that the Coalition government had given councils much more freedom over how to run their housing finances and that, as a direct result of the Coalition government’s changes, SBC had been able to offer 39 new council properties to residents on the waiting list – in Wedgewood Way and Hertford Road, the first new council houses for 30 years, since the Thatcher government stopped councils building council houses. There are more to come at the new Archer Road redevelopment.

Robin Parker proposed a Liberal Democrat amendment that would have reduced the average rent rise this year to 4.1% or £3.84 a week, a reduction in the increase of 1.5% or £1.39. The amendment was lost with all the Labour, Conservative and UKIP councillors voting against it and voting in favour of Labour’s rent rise of 5.61% or £5.23 a week (average).

Liberal Democrats voted for their amendment and against Labour’s rent rise of 5.61% or £5.23 a week (average).

The savings suggested by Robin Parker would have been made possible by deleting unspecified (as yet) growth items in the budget, making in year savings and forced underspends and bringing forward from 2015/2016 options for the Supported Housing service – all as suggested by the Leaders’ Services Priority Group (LSPG).

Robin Parker concluded: “The responsibility for this large rent increase, for the fifth year running, lies solely with the Labour council, and not the government – who have removed the previous Labour government’s insistence that council house rents should be increased each year above inflation, until they equal those of other social landlords. It seems wrong for tenants to bear the weight of unspecified growth items. Most tenants just want a good and responsive repairs service.”