Green and Tory councillors on the Housing & New Homes Committee joined forces this week to vote down Labour’s proposed housing budget for 2015/16.
The Housing Revenue Account budget, which sets out income and expenditure from council housing, proposed a number of cuts and increased service charges for council housing tenants.
Both parties expressed concerns over the poor level of consultation on the council’s proposals as well as cuts to the Playbus, community grants and dramatic changes to the major works programme.
During the committee meeting, Greens secured support for an amendment committing the council to urgent consultation with tenant representatives on the budget, as well as a detailed programme of consultation for the future 2017/18 budget.
Greens condemned proposals in the budget which would see a 99% cut from a planned investment in home insulation from over £5m in 2014/15 to £50,000 in 2015/16, saying it was a “significant step backwards which runs counter to the city’s Housing Strategy”.
During committee discussions the Council’s planning committee was blamed for refusing an application for home insulation, and Labour’s housing spokesperson said “it was a shame” that some residents would not be able to live in energy-efficient homes. Greens said this was a “weak excuse”, and that there were many other Council blocks where improvements could still be made to improve energy efficiency.
The plans to cut budgets for energy efficiency measures follow a raft of Labour proposals in the General Fund budget which Greens says will see significant increases in long-term environmental damage caused by the Council alongside failure to invest in environmental improvements.
Greens say anti-environment measures proposed or introduced so far include reductions in renewable energy usage, cuts to park rangers and cuts to the councils sustainability team.
Green councillor and spokesperson for housing, David Gibson, said: “When I met with tenant representatives this week, they all expressed dissatisfaction that they were being sidelined in developing the housing budget, and called for more consultation this year and next. Unfortunately, Labour are once again failing to consult and listen, this time to tenants on how money from their rental payments should be spent.
“We were pleased to see our amendment passed at committee, meaning that tenants who pay for the housing service will now get more of a chance to have a say on this year’s and next year’s budget. While it feels too little, too late for this year’s budget, we hope it will give tenants some chance to be involved, and puts us on a stronger footing to ensure Labour consult properly on next year’s budget.
“Cuts to insulation in this budget would hit vulnerable people the hardest, with many struggling to afford to heat their homes. It would also see energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions rise at a time when significant reductions are needed to comply with our international obligations. Labour yet again has shown its short-sightedness when it comes to budget planning, and its lack of regard for families facing financial difficulty.
“When in administration, the Greens invested substantial sums to improve Council housing, so that 100% of all council-owned homes are now classed as decent homes, well above levels in the private sector. This has driven down energy bills for some of the poorest residents in the city. However there is still much to do, which is why Greens pledged to invest £7m in 2016/17 if elected. Sadly, Labour has seen fit to bring investment to a halt, despite a compelling fuel poverty and environmental case”.
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