This is a letter to the Swindon Adveriser in response to a letter from Councillor Russell Holland on the 3.7% Council rent increase for this year. Rumours that tenants have been queuing up at Euclid St to thank Councillors for the above inflation rent increase have, apparently been denied by the Council.

To read Russell Holland’s letter (“Rent increase is for the best”) you would imagine that the only people to oppose an above inflation rent increase for Council tenants, in the words of his crude amalgam, were “the Labour Party and Martin Wicks”. What he neglected to tell readers was that the proposal for a rent increase “no higher than inflation” came from tenants. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group and Swindon Tenants Voice both supported an inflation level increase, as indeed did the Council’s very own Housing Advisory Forum.

It is patently ridiculous to suggest that we “wish to create the impression that any increase in rent is somehow an attack on tenants” when we voted for a 3.2% increase! The discussion was not on whether there should be an increase but at what level to pitch it.

The 3.2% alternative increase is in fact above inflation. It was the RPI level in September. In the following months for which measurement has been recorded inflation was at least half a percent lower than that. So 3.7% will be way above inflation.

Russell tells us to “stop complaining all the time and try to be constructive”. We are are constructive. That’s why myself and Brian Shakespeare had a meeting with David Renard and Richard Hurley to discuss our proposals in relation to housing strategy.

As to investing in the housingstock, when the new housing finance system came in, the officers were proposing an annual ‘debt payment’ of £8. Having investigated the finances we put forward the proposal that instead of paying off the debt at £8 million the Council should cut that figure to £5 million. When Russell was Lead Member responsible for housing, he accepted our constructive argument and thankfully agreed. As a result of our efforts, the Council is spending £3 million more a year on our homes than it originally planned to do. If they had proceeded with their proposal there would have been a great deal less work being carried out today.

To misquote an old saying, a year is a long time in politics. Last year the administration was proposing an above inflation increase. Tenants proposed to keep it to the level of inflation and Labour supported that. Explaining why the Conservatives had changed their minds and decided to vote for an inflation level increase, Russell told the Advertiser:

“There’s good arguments for and against the rent increase but I think it’s best for tenants that we have a unified decision. There are 57 councillors and there are tenants that live across the whole of Swindon, so if we can reach a decision upon which all 57 of us can agree, that’s best for tenants, because otherwise we have political arguments about rents.”

What’s different this year?

Martin Wicks

Secretary, Swindon Tenants Campaign Group