DONCASTER’S council house tenants face another rent hike, after councillors yesterday approved a budget that will also see hundreds of jobs shed and a children’s centre close.
Tenants in the borough’s 20,000 council houses face an average 5.89 per cent increase in their rent, taking bills from an average £62.78 to £66.46 a week.
Council tax was frozen, but contributions to police and fire budgets are going up.
Doncaster Labour group leader Coun Glynn Jones blamed the latest above-inflation rent rise on the Government, because of a central formula brought in by Tony Blair’s Government in April 2002.
But he said he was concerned about the increase at a time people are feeling the pinch across the borough.
He said: “The rise is brought about by the national Government formula we have to follow and, given the difficulties we already have to deal with, we have to go along with it. It does concern me rents are going up and that the rise will affect some of our most vulnerable people. Some of the poorest people in Doncaster live in council homes, and this is happening during times which are tough financially.”
But the council also backed a new £1 million fund which will be set up to help deal with the introduction of welfare benefits reform. A policy to detail how the money will be used is still being drawn up and is expected to be outlined at a future cabinet meeting.
Coun Barbara Hoyle, cabinet member for housing, said Doncaster’s council house rents remained the cheapest in South Yorkshire, and were five per cent lower than in Rotherham and Barnsley, and six per cent cheaper than Sheffield’s.
Yesterday’s budget also confirmed plans to shed 308 jobs, and before the meeting protesters lobbied the Civic Offices.
Staff from the Connexions careers service gathered with placards and banners at the entrance, to raise concerns over plans in the budget which would see the 40 remained careers staff at the organisation lose their jobs.
Unison members working in the careers service said if the closure goes ahead, children in Doncaster will face an uncertain future as years of professional experience in helping young people into education and employment could be lost.
Joe Gibbins, Unison area organiser, said: “At a time of high youth unemployment, the loss of a centralised careers service would be a complete disaster for Doncaster.
“Yet more public servants’ jobs axed and the education and employment prospects of the young people of the town placed in jeopardy for the sake of cost-cutting.”
The council said the service was previously funded through the early intervention grant now cut by the Government. Responsibility for careers advice now goes to schools themselves.
The budget also gave the approval for plans which will see the closure of the Finningley children’s centre.
Labour leader Coun Jones warned its closure, and reductions to its service, would cut its effectiveness and make it more difficult to identify families in need of support.
The council refused to back plans to spend £6.2m on a planned waste recycling depot until other options had been explored, and that was dropped from the capital budget, but backed plans for spending around £50m on highways schemes including the Finningley and Rossington Regeneration Route Scheme.
Unison area organiser Joe Gibbins hits out at plans to scrap Doncaster’s Connexions careers service.