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Council faces shortfall as social rent cut is planned

By Chris Hunter

Councillors have slammed government plans to reduce social housing rent by 1% per year for the next four years.

The reductions, part of measures introduced under the Welfare Reform and Work Bill 2015, will be welcomed by tenants – but not by members of Medway Council’s cabinet.

Cllr Andrew Mackness said at a cabinet meeting this week: “I’m just dumbfounded by how we’ve found ourselves in this position where we’re having to reduce rent by 1%. It’s inexplicable. It’s bizarre.”

Cllr Andrew Mackness
Cllr Andrew Mackness

Speaking outside the meeting he called the rent reduction plan an “unfortunate and ill-considered” proposal, adding: “We’re supposed to be bringing social rent in line with private rent.

“To have a 1% reduction in funding for the authority in challenging times makes it even more difficult to close the budget gap.

“It’s a nice windfall for those residents, but those living in the private sector aren’t having their rents reduced.

“As the local authority we provide quality accommodation and we don’t understand how rent can be going down.”

He said the council had been “bashed about” by central government. Medway Labour group leader Cllr Vince Maple, who was present at the cabinet meeting as an observer, agreed, saying it was another example of central government contradicting its commitment to “localism” and devolution of power.

Medway Labour group leader Vince Maple
Medway Labour group leader Vince Maple

He said: “Councils and social landlords should be able to take decisions themselves. The HRA business plan was based on an assumption of a 3% increase in rent – so it’s effectively a 4% reduction in terms of forward planning.”

However, he added: “Clearly a reduction in rent is welcome for residents.” And Cllr Maple fell short of fully backing Cllr Mackness, saying: “The reality is it’s his government doing this, no matter how many tweets he sends trying to distance himself from this government. I didn’t campaign for this government.

“They talk about devolution but they’re just devolving their own decisions – not devolving any power to communities.”

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