Pete Firmin, Chair Brent Fightback, reports on the scandalous actions of Brent Council.
While Labour nationally is saying it will repeal the Bedroom Tax and campaigns on the `cost of living crisis’, Labour-run Brent Council in north west London is passing on to its poorest residents the latest government proposals. In the last few weeks they have summonsed 3,000 people for non-payment of Council Tax, and have proposed to increase council rents by 100% for new properties and to bring existing rents up to 60-80% of market rents in five years.
The Council leadership argue they “have no choice” given the cuts central government is making to their budget. Never mind that they are adding to the cost of living of those least able to pay. They have not even considered adopting the approach of other councils in refusing to pass on this charge to those previously exempt from paying Council Tax. By taking out summonses they are adding court costs of around £100 to that burden.
The Council has been drawing up its future rents policy amid much confusion among councillors themselves as to what it actually contains. What is clear is that for the few new homes which the Council manages to build, it is intending that rents will be set at the “affordable” level of 80% of market rents (i.e. non-affordable for those most in need, especially given the vastly over-inflated rents in London).
For tenants in existing properties, the Council will continue to raise rents annually by more than inflation, and appears to accept the Government’s (voluntary) policy that these should eventually converge with “affordable” rents. And where new homes are being built by private developers and housing associations, often on land previously owned by the Council (such as for the libraries closed in a previous round of cuts), there is very little lip service paid to providing any homes at sensible rents.
This Labour Council has shown it has no `bottom line’ – once it accepts that it has “no choice” but to pass on the cuts. Any claims to “protect front line services” and “protect the poorest” are empty verbiage. However, strong campaigns oppose the Council on these policies and these will need to be strengthened in the run-up to the Council’s budget-making, when even more drastic cuts in jobs and services will be proposed for next year.