OPPOSITION councillors have hit out against a ‘crippling’ 4.1 per cent rent rise for council tenants which will impact almost 20,000 people across Barnsley.
The majority of councillors voted in favour of the rise and leader of Barnsley Council, Sir Steve Houghton, said the consequent cost to tenants would be ‘balanced out’ by the local authority’s other moves to reduce other bills.
However, the leader of Barnsley’s Liberal Democrats - Coun Hannah Kitching - said despite ‘immense’ funding challenges facing local government, the group ‘could not ignore the crippling cost of living crisis that tenants are facing’.
Coun Kitching asked why the rise was necessary when there always seems to be money for ‘vanity projects’ such as the new town centre Glass Works complex.
“With rising food and fuel costs, the current cost of living crisis is disproportionately affecting the poorest and most vulnerable families and we know that many of them will be council tenants,” she added.
“All residents see is they are struggling to live, struggling to get by, and Barnsley Council have spent millions and millions.
“Already too many people are having to choose between heating and eating.
“So it is beyond belief that, in the face of all that, this council has chosen to raise council rents by 4.1 per cent - the maximum allowed by the government.
“We simply cannot support that.”
The increase affects bedsits, flats, bungalows, maisonettes and houses managed on behalf of the local authority by Berneslai Homes.
Sir Steve said: “Whatever we spend on these projects, whether that be the new Dodworth Road improvement scheme, the Glass Works - whatever it is, it doesn’t affect our housing revenue account one bit.
“Coun Kitching knows that, and I know that.
“The other alternative is to start cutting services and sacking some staff - nobody wants to do that.
“It’s hard for people out there and I get that, but we have a responsibility to make sure we have a proper service for tenants because they want the repairs and they want their houses looked after.
“It has to be paid for, and I certainly don’t want to be here next year looking at a reduced subsidy from the government.”
In 2012, the government devolved power to councils to manage their own council homes, and the funds are kept in a so-called housing revenue account, which is redistributed back to the council to fund management, maintenance and major improvements of the housing stock.
Coun Chris Lamb, cabinet spokesperson for environment and transport, said: “We know it’s extremely difficult, but the 4.1 per cent rise is in line with government policy on the raising of rent.
“In order to protect communities and to have no changes elsewhere, it is necessary.
“We all accept there’s a cost of living crisis, no one is denying that.”