Council house rents in Edinburgh frozen for a year as part of budget settlement

The City of Edinburgh Council has set a balanced £1 billion-plus budget for the next financial year with Council Tax and rents for council house tenants frozen at 2020/21 levels. 

Council house rents in Edinburgh frozen for a year as part of budget settlement

The ruling SNP/Labour coalition’s budget proposals for a 2% increase were defeated following a joint motion by the Conservative, Green and Liberal Democrat groups at yesterday’s budget meeting.

Commenting on the vote, Elle Glenny, an organiser for Living Rent, Scotland’s tenants’ union, said: “Across Scotland, tenants have faced utterly intolerable circumstances during the pandemic. Rents that were already unaffordable have become simply impossible to meet, and it was ludicrous that the council were even considering rent increases under these circumstances.

“This vote shows not just what’s possible, that rent increases are not inevitable, but what is necessary. Tenants, both social and private, need urgent protections from unaffordable rents, including strong rent controls. And as we head into the Holyrood elections, we hope that political parties and candidates will pay close attention to this vote.”

Financial flexibilities already agreed with the Scottish Government have contributed to the balanced budget position for 2021/22, with an acknowledgement that more fundamental service reform, improvement and prioritisation will be required in future years.

At their annual Budget Meeting, elected members also approved a three-year Business Plan setting out how the council would respond to the need for change. The Business Plan and the priorities it sets shapes the four-year budget framework (2022/23 – 2025/26) also approved yesterday, which sets out the need for broader reforms to reprioritise and potentially redesign services to achieve more than £100 million of savings over the coming years.  

Finance and resources convener Councillor Rob Munn said: “When we set a three-year balanced budget in February 2020, we had no inkling of the economic and social turmoil the pandemic was about to unleash across the globe. As a city and as individuals, this past year has tested us like no other time in recent memory – and the challenges are ongoing. It’s testament to the dedication, commitment and resilience of all our staff, our services and our city that we’ve been able to agree a new business plan and balanced budget for 2021/22 today. 

“Helping Edinburgh and our citizens to recover and rebuild after the strains of Covid-19 is critical and, as they’ve done throughout, staff in Council services continue to work tirelessly to look after the city and our communities. Guided by our business plan priorities of ending poverty, becoming a net zero city and making sure wellbeing and equalities are enhanced for all we’ve agreed a comprehensive package of additional investments as part of our £1 billion-plus 2021/22 budget, channelling extra funding to where it’s most needed and will have the most meaningful impact.

“We want to pay tribute to the outstanding efforts of our residents in helping Edinburgh weather the Covid storm. We have seen communities come together through the hardest of times and they have shown all of what is best about our city. Without the solidarity and resilience of the people of Edinburgh, the financial, social and life cost to our Capital would have been far higher.”

The outcome of the Scottish Government’s Local Government Financial Settlement this year has contributed an extra £9m to the council’s budget.

Investment proposals put forward by the SNP/Labour Coalition for the additional £9m were agreed as follows:

  • £0.170m to freeze fees and charges of school meals, care at home services, garden aid and library reservation charges and fines;
  • £0.400m in 2021/22 to expand support and advice to help people at risk of homelessness and support those experiencing homelessness into secure tenancies;
  • £1.050m to manage crisis needs, increase funding for direct payments in light of COVID, support food security in the city, embed advice across schools and GP surgeries and expand programmes like Discover!, all to help put millions of pounds extra in the pockets of families who need it the most;
  • £0.500m to support climate obligations and further decarbonisation of the council’s estate;
  • £0.300m to support delivery measures for the sustainability plan which will be published in the summer;
  • £0.500m to enhance parks, playparks, food growing and urban forests, with £4m of related capital investment  
  • £0.250m into setting up a short-term let licensing and enforcement system to move quickly in dealing with the problem;
  • £2.000m extra to accelerate the 1-to-1 digital strategy to help all school pupils get the equipment they need for their studies;  
  • £0.110m to strengthen and support the council’s role as corporate parents by expanding the support team;
  • £0.175m to support expansion of Edinburgh Guarantee in light of the impact COVID has had on jobs;
  • £0.500m investment to take forward Smart City initiatives; and
  • £0.052m to extend the role of the Gaelic Development Officer for one year beyond the end of Scottish Government funding.

Further to this, £2.743m has been allocated to the council’s unallocated reserves as a contingency against future risks.

In addition to these funding allocations, the council will spend over £1bn on services and investing in its priorities:

Reducing poverty

  • £82m on early years services - 1,140 hours of funded early learning and childcare by August 2021
  • A £2.8bn ten-year HRA Capital investment programme to deliver council commitments, including the delivery of 10,000 new council-led affordable homes by 2027, the modernisation of existing homes and the commitment to deliver zero carbon emissions by 2030
  • £3.6m to improve pupil attainment, achievement and attendance, as well as £7m from Scottish Government Pupil Equity Funding
  • £0.8m for clothing grants
  • Investing an additional £10m to provide temporary accommodation to address the ongoing impacts of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Providing free school meals to almost 7,700 pupils and all pupils in P1-P3
  • Almost £30m for people who need help paying their Council Tax

Sustainability - working towards being carbon neutral by 2030

  • Another £8.4m to finish upgrading street lighting to energy-efficient LED lights
  • Trams to Newhaven project including £2.4m to support local businesses
  • £7.6m to continue to replace more than 200 vehicles with lower emissions ones

Health and Wellbeing

  • £19.7m to complete Meadowbank Sports Centre
  • £2.3m for community mental health support and school counselling
  • £3.9m in grants to improve mental health and wellbeing, learning and development and to support personal and social development

In 2021-22, the council will also invest

  • £8.5m on North Bridge
  • £234m on health and social care services

And over the next ten years, the council will invest:

  • More than £189m on roads and pavements, including winter maintenance
  • £68m on road safety, network, cycling and public transport.
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