Edinburgh City Council’s rent rise plan derailed by opposition rainbow coalition

A rainbow coalition of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Green Party councillors has won a rent freeze for council tenants - with one councillor describing Edinburgh City Council as a 'slum landlord'.
'Sl;um landlord' warning issued by Tory councillor Graham Hutchison'Sl;um landlord' warning issued by Tory councillor Graham Hutchison
'Sl;um landlord' warning issued by Tory councillor Graham Hutchison

The coalition was organised late last night, after the three main opposition parties on the council all submitted rival budget proposals that called for rent to be frozen for 2021/22.

As part of the city’s 2021/22 budget, the SNP/Labour ruling administration had proposed increasing rent for the council’s 20,000 tenants by two per cent in order to help fund a 30-year improvement and renovation plan for its aging housing stock.

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The rise would have netted £2m for the council for the coming financial year, and the ruling coalition said the majority of households would feel no impact on their income, as Universal Credit would cover the increase.

Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang accused the SNP/Labour administration of being 'tone deaf'Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang accused the SNP/Labour administration of being 'tone deaf'
Liberal Democrat councillor Kevin Lang accused the SNP/Labour administration of being 'tone deaf'

The SNP/Labour coalition also pointed to the annual tenant’s survey, which collated responses from 1,000 tenants, which found 98 per cent of respondents were in favour of the increase in exchange for renovations and general improvements to the council’s building stock.

At a meeting of the full council, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat/Green Party motion, which called for the rent freeze, was initially rejected by the administration, which due to the lateness of the application said it would not accept it as an emergency motion.

However, this was put to a vote, which the administration lost, allowing the motion to be heard.

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Speaking in favour of freezing rent, Almond councillor Graham Hutchison, Conservatives, said: “By any reasonable standard, many of our council houses would, and should be, declared unliveable - and many are literally home to our most vulnerable citizens who have been hit hardest by Covid-19.

'Highest council rents in Scotland' - Chas Booth, Green Party'Highest council rents in Scotland' - Chas Booth, Green Party
'Highest council rents in Scotland' - Chas Booth, Green Party

“At this time when our citizens are desperately trying to recover from the effects of Covid-19, we should be keeping money in their pockets - not in the council’s.

“It’s no good saying to someone in a council house that they’re going to receive a new kitchen in 2077, or a new bathroom in 2031, when their roof is leaking, when windows have the wind blowing in, when they have damp patches all over their walls - that is the conditions that the citizens in our council housing are facing.

“By any other standard Edinburgh City Council would be considered a slum landlord.

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"We would not accept this from private landlords, why do we allow our council houses to be let to residents in the state they’re in?”

'We are speaking to the Scottish government' - council leader Adam McVey'We are speaking to the Scottish government' - council leader Adam McVey
'We are speaking to the Scottish government' - council leader Adam McVey

Fellow Almond councillor Kevin Lang, Liberal Democrats, said: “The rent rise is probably the most tone deaf part of the administration’s budget.

“I honestly didn’t think that at the height of the pandemic, and the worst economic crisis I hope any of us ever has to live through, a period which is hitting the poorest the hardest - I didn’t think the administration would present this council with a motion that hikes up council rent, at a time when so many folk are least able to afford it.”

Council leader Adam McVey said: “The housing investment plans and the revenue plan which was agreed at committee is not a one year plan - it’s a 30 year plan - and the cost of this decision is not £2m, it is closer to £100m over the lifetime of that investment plan.

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“We’ve seen and heard that we need to deliver environmental improvements for our tenants, that we need to continue to invest in our properties and drive up standards - that is not helped by taking nearly £100m of investment out of that strategy.

“More than 1,000 tenants got in touch as part of our survey, 98 per cent of them were supportive of our investment plans.

“We will listen to our tenants, we’ll listen to what they want, because what they want is properties for the 21st century and we’ll continue to invest in that.

“The accusation that’s been thrown at the council - ‘don’t worry, just go and speak to the Scottish government’ - well, we are speaking to the Scottish government.

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“Just yesterday the convener wrote to the housing secretary asking for hundreds of millions of pounds-worth of additional investment to try and refocus national money into Edinburgh.

“That will help enormously if it comes to fruition, but that doesn’t take away from the need to invest, right across the board, in our properties.”

The SNP/Labour administration lost the vote by 27 votes to 34.

Speaking after the debate, Leith councillor Chas Booth of the Green Party, said: “Edinburgh has by far the highest council rents in Scotland, 30 per cent higher than the average.

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“Half of tenants will face the full brunt of the average £100 rise, either in part or full.

“So in the special circumstances of this year Green councillors thought it was right to freeze rents at 2020-21 levels for some of the lowest income households in the city at a time of unique hardship, with reserves in the housing account offsetting any impact on the service.

“That is why we brought other opposition councillors together last night to agree a joint approach and I am delighted that has won through today. Rents will be frozen next year.”

Depute Leader of the council, Cammy Day, who represents Forth for the Labour Party, commented: “Edinburgh Labour is disappointed that the Greens and the Tories have ignored the views of the tenants we consulted.

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“The impact on the Greens and Tories working together will see nearly 200 affordable homes reduced from our plans.

“This reduces our ability to invest in tenants’ homes with upgrades and energy efficiency measures.

“The Edinburgh Poverty Commission made clear that affordable housing was a top priority - this decision from the Greens and Tories will delay the chance of an affordable home.

“This is not about our tenants. It’s about the upcoming elections, and playing politics, rather than giving the best home we can to our tenants.”

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Commenting on the vote, Elle Glenny, an organiser for Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, said: “Across Scotland, tenants have faced utterly intolerable circumstances during the pandemic.

“Rents that were already unaffordable have become simply impossible to meet, and it was ludicrous that the council were even considering rent increases under these circumstances.

“This vote shows not just what’s possible - that rent increases are not inevitable - but what is necessary.

“Tenants - both social and private - need urgent protections from unaffordable rents, including strong rent controls.

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“And as we head into the Holyrood elections, we hope that political parties and candidates will pay close attention to this vote.”

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