Thursday, 27 February 2014

Breckland Council Budget 2014

My response to the Breckland Council budget debate today; I am disappointed in this budget and I feel that it fails to address some of the most pressing issues facing our district. In many ways in compounds the inequalities that exist in our communities. There are numerous aspects that I would like to take issue with and discuss, but I’m conscious that I’m limited to three minutes so I will focus on one aspect – namely housing. 

Last February the Breckland Labour Group tabled an amendment to the budget calling for Breckland Council to undertake a much more proactive approach to house-building locally. Despite the reassuring words from the then leader at the time, there has been little visible action, if any, over the past year.

Last December we heard about the effects that the bedroom tax was having in the district with nearly 1,000 families in our area affected. Further to this, just yesterday I received a copy of statistics in relation to housing benefit support. There’s nearly 3,000 people in our district that are in private sector rented accommodation but in receipt of housing benefit. Taxpayers are basically paying off the mortgages of property owners, whilst their tenants often live in poor conditions. Of the 47 local authorities in the Eastern Region, Breckland’s ranks at number 21 – we have a greater percentage of people in receipt of housing benefit in the private rented sector than in Norwich for example, or Watford, or Colchester. Nearly as many as Luton, Kings Lynn and Ipswich. 

Rather than transferring the money that we are receiving in new homes bonus to reserves, like this budget is proposing and rather than using the right to buy income that this council receives to subsidise council tax, as has been the case for some time, I’d much rather see this money invested to see Breckland Council pro-actively addressing the housing problems locally. Not only would these additional houses bring in rental monies, but we’d get additional new homes bonus money as well. Furthermore, by targetting the availability of these homes to those affected by the bedroom tax we’d be able to reduce the impact that this is having on their life and by targeting the homes and those in receipt of housing benefit, we could reduce the overall bill to the taxpayer as well which I am sure we would all support.

Mr Chairman, in short, I’d like to propose an amendment to the budget that would see the new homes bonus money transferred to a reserve specifically designated as a fund that would allow us to get homes built or homes brought back into use.