Council rent hike could be ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’

A row broke out over the proposed council rent hike with one councillor warning it could be the “straw that breaks the camel’s back”.

Shetland Central member Moraig Lyall called at today’s (Monday) development committee for a rental freeze, rather than the 2.5 per cent proposed increase.

Mrs Lyall’s proposal narrowly lost out by four votes to five.

The committee had been told the increase was needed to fund housing maintenance and repairs.

However, Mrs Lyall highlighted the “unprecedented challenges” facing households, including soaring energy bills and inflation.

While many factors behind the cost of living crisis are outwith the SIC’s control, Mrs Lyall said rents were one area where the council could make a difference.

She accepted freezing rents would cost £170,000 in lost revenue next year.

“But it might save some households being hit with the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” she added.

“If it comes down to a choice between harm to the council’s finances and harm to an individual’s ability to make ends meet, I think the right thing at the moment is for us to take the hit.”

Committee chairman Alastair Cooper, however, warned the rental increase was necessary to fund essential housing maintenance. He said any money saved by the tenants in freezing rent would only end up in the pockets of electricity companies.

“This is not about playing politics with the local community, this is about fixing our houses,” he said.

He noted housing revenue was a “closed account” and relied on rents for its funding.

Mr Cooper said it would be a “complete disservice” to tenants to not increase rents.

He said he wanted to ensure as much as possible was done to improve housing stock to minimise the impact of the energy price hike.

Mr Cooper’s motion to increase rents by the recommended 2.5 per cent was seconded by Shetland South member Allison Duncan.

Mr Duncan said: “If we don’t increase our rents as stated today it means this cost will be added to rents in the future.”

Lerwick North member John Fraser, who seconded Mrs Lyall’s motion, acknowledged the “very solid and reasonable” arguments made for the rental increase.

However, he also noted the “unprecedented situation” which meant people in Shetland were already struggling.

“Unprecedented times need an unprecedented approach,” he said.

Mrs Lyall said she did not think the current combination of cost pressures had ever hit so hard at once.

“While we may be loading up certain pressures further down the line, I believe the situation is such that it merits making an immediate decision now not to put any further pressure on families’ incomes,” she said.

“I really feel with this being one of the few levers within our powers to make a difference to households in our community that we should grasp this nettle and keep the rents at the level they are.”

The rental increase will be discussed again at the policy and resources committee and full council later this month.


Add Your Comment
  • Jenny Henry

    • February 7th, 2022 16:41

    If the council had spent the rental income it’s generated over the years on maintaining their housing stock there wouldn’t be so many council houses in a very sad and dilapidated state now. It would be interesting to see a more detailed breakdown of rental income and expenditure – I’m fairly sure they haven’t spent the c.£760,000 a year they raise from Sandveien tenants on maintenance and improvements to that particular housing scheme!


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