East Lothian tenants face rents and council tax increase

Council tax and housing rents in East Lothian are set to increase after the local authority’s 2019/20 budget plans were approved by elected members.

As well as increasing council tax by 4.79%, East Lothian Council agreed further rises of 3% annually in the following two years and a 5% increase in council house rent annually over the next five years.

East Lothian tenants face rents and council tax increase

The council said it is dealing with multiple spending pressures at a time of unprecedented population growth, new policy obligations, inflationary costs and increased demand for services.

It added that rents in East Lothian will remain among the lowest in Scotland and support investment of more than £170 million over five years in council housing, including significant expenditure on new homes and the modernisation or extension of others.

A paper presented to elected members at yesterday’s council meeting noted that, following the Scottish Government budget process, the expected revenue support grant for the council in 2019/20 would now be £169.087m, which equates to a reduction of £0.198m. When adjusted to reflect funding for new policy obligations on the council - including investment in the expansion of childcare, health and social care integration, implementation of the Barclay Review and Carers Act – this equates to an effective reduction in core revenue funding of just under £2.5m (1.5%).

Other key points agreed in this year’s budget include investment in new, improved or expanded local schools and infrastructure, with a near £300m programme of capital investment over five years. This investment is funded by a combination of government grants, capital receipts, developer contributions and borrowing that must be paid for/serviced through the revenue account. There will be a £37.5m investment over five years in the county’s roads.

The council said it will draw on £3m of its reserves to help set a balanced budget in 2019/20.

Council leader Willie Innes said: “While this has been another very challenging budget process, East Lothian Council continues to focus on the importance of delivering our priorities – including investment in new and improved council housing, schools, local facilities and local infrastructure. Our spending plans are geared towards enhancing communities, helping children achieve their potential and supporting vulnerable people.

“Despite an adjustment to next year’s funding package for councils - as a result of the Scottish Government’s approved budget - the reality is that we are experiencing another real terms fall in the overall amount of funding available to us.

“With rising costs and additional national policy obligations, we face an increasingly challenging financial climate in Scotland’s fastest growing council area.

“We have decided to increase council tax by 4.79% - the maximum allowed – in 2019/20, and with indicative 3% increases in subsequent years. This means that, between 2008/09 (when a council tax freeze was introduced) and 2021/22, there will have been an average annual council tax increase in East Lothian of 1.2%. Council tax provides less than a quarter of the money we need to run local services and so such increases only help us to bridge the funding gap.

“This means we do need to reduce costs, continue to be innovative and develop our approach to transformation – such as increased digitiastion of services, helping us to be more efficient and improve the experience of services for local residents.

“As evidenced by last year’s Best Value Report from the Accounts Commission, East Lothian Council has a strong track record of building on improvements to services while challenging ourselves to be increasingly efficient and innovative. Our valued staff in communities across East Lothian continue to have a key role to play in delivering high-quality local services, as we ensure our structures and working practices are as efficient and effective as possible. 

“And we will continue to work with communities to ensure local people are empowered and enabled in helping to play their part in realising our vision for East Lothian – for example giving communities the opportunity to run some local community buildings.

“In doing so, and in the face of these significant financial pressures, the council can maintain its focus on continuous improvement, provide the highest possible standard of service to local communities and deliver on our priorities - helping to build the more prosperous, safe and sustainable East Lothian we all want to see.”

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