Sheffield City council has set a balanced housing budget, the first under the new committee system and the first with a Green Party chair of the Housing Policy Committee.
Speaking on the proposal to introduce the budget, Cllr Douglas Johnson thanked officers, tenants and councillors on the cross-party Housing Policy Committee and said he believed in good public services.
“What better example of a public service can there be than the provision of housing. We should be proud that Sheffield has retained its 39,000 council homes in public ownership and control.”
He also commended the cross-party working that had helped the committee overcome the huge funding gap of £23 million and agree the best proposal that could be had. In spite of rising inflation, the council had:
– provided nearly 1000 new council homes,
– Improved its repairs performance, even though there was a long way to go
– Reduced the number of empty council homes
– Re-roofed and insulated 7000 council homes
– Started to put solar panels on council housing roofs
– Tripled the hardship fund to help tenants with the cost of living
– Mobilised resources to respond to the large-scale emergency in Stannington in December.
However, Cllr Johnson called out Labour Party criticisms that there was not enough money to build as many houses as desired, saying,
“In view of their somewhat point-scoring press release, it was disappointing that Labour failed to offer any proposals to meet the £200m funding gap in the stock increase programme. That may explain why they had in fact already voted to reduce the housing target.
“Labour councillors claimed that cities like Bristol, which still has Labour Party overall control, were spending more on their stock increase programme until I pointed out that Bristol City Council had actually reduced their target from 2000 to 1700 homes.
After an extended debate , the full council agreed unanimously to the proposed budget.
Speaking after the budget had been passed, Councillor Douglas Johnson said
“No one wanted to reduce the number of houses we committed to build but the reality is that rising construction costs have made it impossible to keep to the original target. Councillors from all parties, including Labour Councillors, understood that. Greens only have 2 votes on the Housing Committee so seeking to blame the Greens for taking responsibility in a difficult financial climate is clearly nothing more than politicking.
Labour could come up with no examples of any other Council which had not had to reduce its ambitions due to rising costs. They did mention Bristol City Council as an example but failed to mention that the Bristol Stock Increase programme is being reduced from 2000 to 1700 units due to 20% increase in building cost inflation and that the cost of build per unit has risen from £220k to £270k, similar to Sheffield’s.
The time for doing the detailed work on the issues the council faces is the Council Committee meetings. Hand wringing about problems that they have no answers to in Full Council is clearly just for show. We all care about the problems but we must equally take responsibility for finding solutions.
1 -The Housing Policy Committee has nine members: 4 Labour, 3 LibDem and 2 Green Party.
2 – The Housing Revenue Account is the ring-fenced account for council tenants. It works on the principle that council tenants should not subsidise, or be subsidised by, other council taxpayers
3 – The Housing Revenue Account includes money to put towards capital expenditure on new council houses, housing improvements, home insulation and retrofitting.
4 – The Stock Increase Programme is the council’s strategy to build or buy more council homes. Due to rising costs of inflation, the budget will no longer stretch to build the original target of 3,100 homes. In December, all party groups voted to reduce this target to 2310 new homes to contain the programme within its budget.