To present to Council the Cabinet’s Housing Revenue Account budget proposals for 2020/21 including the increase in dwelling rents for 2020/21.
The Council gave consideration to the Cabinet’s Housing Revenue Account (HRA) budget proposals for 2020/21, including the proposed increase in dwelling rents for 2020/21.
Members were aware from Minute 106 (A.5) of the meeting of the Cabinet held on 24 January 2020, that the Chief Executive, in consultation with the Housing Portfolio Holder, had been authorised to adjust the forecast / budget, including the use of reserves, if the financial position had changed prior to this Council meeting.
The Council was advised of all the resolutions and the recommendation made by the Cabinet on 24 January 2020, together with the additional recommendations necessary to set the HRA budget, fees and charges and dwelling rents for 2020/21. Those resolutions and recommendations were before the Council, as contained within item A.2 of the Report of the Cabinet.
The Council was aware that the Cabinet’s proposed HRA budget had been subject to the Council’s Budget and Policy Framework Procedure Rules, which had included scrutiny by the Council’s Resources and Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The Leader of the Council (Councillor Stock OBE) made the following budget statement:-
“As mentioned earlier, there are many new faces in the room who will be considering a General Fund budget for the first time. But in terms of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA), this is the first time that it has been in front of any of us at a Full Council meeting, so quite a timely change to previous arrangements.
In terms of size and scale, the HRA is on a par with the General Fund with expenditure in excess of £13 million each year.
It is a relatively quiet year budget-wise, but one of the highlights is the Government’s removal of the requirement to reduce rents by 1% each year. As we have said before, this was unsustainable and has already taken a considerable amount of money out of the HRA - we estimate that it will have taken over £30m out of the account over a 30 year business planning period – money that could have gone into building new homes and improving existing homes.
Hopefully, people therefore see the proposed 2.7% rent increase as sensible, prudent and necessary to support the HRA budget to continue to remain strong and allow the Council to make the right investment in people’s homes. The average proposed weekly rent is £82.42, which I think represents good value for money.
When speaking about the HRA it always seems a good time to reflect on the Right to Buy. We know it is unlikely to be something that the Government are ever going to do away with in England, so lobbying for such an outcome will likely fall on deaf ears. But perhaps a more productive approach would be to suggest ways to make the Right to Buy sustainable – this is something we have already done when officers met with representatives from MHCLG last year. We made some sensible and credible suggestions on how the Government could balance their political commitment to continue with the Right to Buy with making it financially sustainable for local authorities.
Looking ahead to 2021/22, we will need to revisit the 30-year business plan in light of the emerging housing strategy, but we are operating from a really strong base both financially and reputationally.
We are still faced with a number of risks over and above the right to buy issue such as the outcome from the Grenfell inquiry. As set out in the report we all want to ensure that our tenants live in safe and comfortable homes and we would never put money ahead of individual safety.
The proposed increase in rents has enabled a £281k contribution to be made to the HRA capital programme so we can really get stuck-in to delivering new homes for local people going into the next financial year.
In terms of new homes, I talked earlier about seeing actual delivery on the ground, and I would urge everyone to take a look at the great progress we are making in Jaywick Sands with the 10 new houses really taking shape. We said this Council would build new council houses; we are doing it!
In echoing some of those comments made during the introduction of the General Fund Budget, we now need to keep on delivering as we can only demonstrate that we are doing the things people want us to do by them seeing it actually happen.
So Chairman, in conclusion, this proposed budget enables us to keep moving forward positively, I commend it most strongly to the Council and I call on Members to support the 2020/21 Housing Revenue Account budget that is being proposed.”
It was moved by Councillor Stock OBE, seconded by Councillor P B Honeywood and unanimously:-
RESOLVED that Council approves:
(a) a 2.7% increase in dwelling rents in 2020/21;
(b) the 2020/21 Scale of Charges shown in Appendix B to item A.2 of the Report of the Cabinet; and
(c) the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) Budget for 2020/21, as set out in Appendix A to the above report, along with the HRA Capital Programme and the movement in HRA Balances / Reserves, as set out in Appendix C and Appendix D respectively to the aforementioned report.