Controversy surrounds vote to lower Rugby Council rents

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Rugby Borough Council rents are set to drop by 1% from April after a council vote but controversy has emerged after Labour councillors voted against the recommendation when the council met on February 6.

Leader of the council, Conservative Cllr Michael Stokes, said he was astonished that Rugby Labour voted against the proposal.

Labour told the Advertiser they welcome the decrease in council rents, but voted against recommendation because they had concerns about an increase in service charges for tenants.

The council said service charges will remain 'roughly the same where applicable’.

Rugby Labour said they were presented with the revised budget minutes before the meeting so didn’t have the time to examine the changes before voting on them.

They asked for the proposals to be examined by a cross-party scrutiny committee of councillors and to go to public consultation - a move which the Conservatives rejected.

Cllr Michael Stokes said: “This was a no brainer for Conservative Councillors, and means a reduction in rent for some of our most vulnerable residents and a maintenance programme that will see the high quality of our properties continued.

“Yet, I was astonished that the Labour group voted against these proposals, without offering an alternative and no debate regarding the reasons why.

“Less surprising, but still disappointing, the Liberal Democrat Group took their usual stance and chose to abstain from any decision making during the vote.”

In response, Cllr Claire Edwards, leader of the council’s Labour group, said: “Whilst we welcome a reduction in rent, this is not set by the council but comes from central government.

“The proposals put forward from the Borough Council included an increase in service charges for communal electricity and gas, and an increase in concierge and estate officer charges.

“Being presented with the revised budget minutes before the meeting meant we were not given time to examine how some of the cuts would be funded.

“That’s why the Labour group asked for the budget to go to further scrutiny and for members of the public to be consulted on it.

“Unfortunately, our amendment was voted down by the Conservative group. This meant that, without any answers to questions on whether tenants would be better or worse off under these changes, we didn’t feel it was something we could support.”

Cllr Mike Brader, Labour member for New Bilton said: “Any help with rent is welcome, but it seemed to me that the average reduction in rent this year of £39.84 may be cancelled out by the £44.64 increase in Estate Officer Charges for tenants in multi-storey flats, for example.

"I couldn’t believe that we were being given new budget figures as we walked into the chamber to vote. It seemed only reasonable that we had a proper look at the figures and, ideally, get the views of tenants as well.”

The council said the changes will see average rents reduce from £83.27 per week to £82.44 per week.

Further proposals approved include heating upgrades for around 65 properties, new bathrooms in around 115 properties and rewiring for around 100 properties.

The council will also aim to buy a further 12 properties on the open market to rent to council tenants, reinvesting in housing where properties have been bought under the Right to Buy.