Rents and Finance

Allotment Scrutiny Committee

The main item of recent news is that the Council Scrutiny Committee that deals with allotment affairs met on Thursday 19th January 2010.

Scrutiny Committees were set up with the aim of improving services for the local community. They examine the performance of council departments, contractors etc., that provide services within the borough. The Committees are mainly made up of councillors but they are open to the public and do seem to be actively interested in taking comments from the floor. The only problem is that they are very poorly publicised!

The Allotments department submitted an initial report for Scrutiny in January 2009 and a follow-up report to the January 2010 meeting. These reports can be accessed by clicking the appropriate links. They are of general interest to all Ealing allotment tenants and among other things give some idea of how much is spent, and on what, on allotments in Ealing. The discussion of the follow-up report was very positive and the general impression given, by the Scrutiny Committee at least, was that the Council is keen to support its Allotment Service. The main point of interest is that at this time Ealing Council the rent income was estimated to be about £58,900 as opposed to a total expenditure on allotments of £111,300 meaning that the Allotment Service was being subsidised by the Council to the extent of about 53%.

A Gathering Storm

As part of their current cost-cutting exercise, many Councils have announced large increases in allotment rentals over the last month or two. Brent Council has announced increases in the rent for a standard 10 pole plot from £66 per year to £150 year. Greenwich Council are planning even larger increases from £66 to £200 per year and Barnet Council has announced increases from £60 to £170 for borough residents and £340 for non-residents. These increases have been widely condemned as disproportionate. 

It seems likely that Ealing will not escape similar rental increases. The Council currently subsidises the Allotment Service to the tune of about 50% and it is likely to want to reduce this. The good news is that the rentals for 2011-2012 have already been published and the percentage increase is relatively low. The bad news is that those for 2012 onwards have yet to be announced. Removal of the subsidy in one go would result in an across the board 100% increase in rental. Changes in the form of the rent – reduction, or abolition, of the current rebate for pensioners and/or the introduction of higher tariffs for out-of-borough tenants – are also on the cards. EAP is strongly of the opinion that the views of Ealing tenants need to be heard before any precipitate decisions are made. There is no formal mechanism for this. To avoid being faced with a done deal, which would be difficult to reverse or modify, Local Allotment Associations - and individual tenants - should consider contacting and discussing the situation with their local councillors. Contact details for councillors are available on the Ealing Council website.

Posted 4th May, 2011

Update on Rentals

EAP understands that Ealing Council is seeking to move to a situation in which the allotment service is self-financing. The Council currently subsidises the service by about 50% (see 2010 accounts). In the absence of other changes, this would require a cross-the-board increase in rentals of about 100%. Although there are possible areas in which expenditure could be cut, it is hard to see how this aim could be met without introducing rental increases of at least 65-70%. EAP is strongly opposed to increases of this magnitude both on grounds of fairness and practicality. They are much higher than the increases likely to be levied on other comparable Council subsidised/supported leisure activities. The majority of allotment holders are on pensions/fixed income or, if working, on comparatively low incomes and, as such, are among the least able to afford such increases. In our opinion, introduction of increases is likely to result in many tenants being forced to give up their plots with a resulting decrease in rental income and pressure for yet more increases.

Rentals for the coming year were announced last summer and it is likely that any new increases will be announced this summer for implementation in 2012. The overall size of such increases; their phasing (one off or staged); possible reduction/removal of the pensioners’ subsidy; the imposition of an “out-of-borough” surcharge; and/or higher rates for multiple plots are all still to be decided. The time to influence these decisions is now. Local Associations (and individual tenants) should make their views clear both to their local Councillors and relevant Council officers as a matter of urgency. Allotments are not high on most Councillors’ agendas. With all the other cuts in Council services currently in the pipeline, their attention is likely to be elsewhere and any proposals on allotment rentals are in danger of simply being nodded through. Once this happens they will be very difficult to reverse.

Posted 14th June 2011

Letter to Councillors

A collective letter has been sent to all Ealing Councillors from the Chairmen of Local Allotment and Gardening Associations, protesting against excessive (up to 100%) allotment rental increases for 2012 onwards that are understood to be in the pipeline. The letter set out the reasons for their opposition to the increases in terms of:

(a) Inherent fairness – increases of the projected size would be way above those planned for other comparable Council supported services.

(b) The fact that the increases would have a disproportionate impact on the more vulnerable members of our community – the majority of allotment tenants are pensioners on fixed incomes or in the lower income bracket or other disadvantaged groups.

(c) Their negative impact on overall Council expenditure – pricing people in the above groups off Council allotments is likely to lead to increases in expenditure by social welfare and health-related areas of Council services that more than outweigh any increased rental income.

(d) The damage it will do to the Council Allotment Service – loss of older tenants with time to help out in the general upkeep and day-to-day running of sites will result in a general deterioration of the sites and their viability as a community resource.

Additionally, most of the Associations are independently lobbying their local ward councillors and MPs seeking their support in opposing these increases and asking them to see that they are scaled down to a size that allotment tenants can reasonably be expected to afford.

For full text click on letter to Councillors (PDF)

Posted 22nd July 2011

Update on Rental Increase Protest

Some progress to report. The letter from the Chairmen of the Local Associations referred to below arrived on the same day that a Councillor raised the question of the possible abolition of the pensioners’ allotment concession at a Council meeting. This caused quite a stir and it has been agreed that the concession should remain untouched – the question of the overall increase in the basic rental rate, however, remains to be decided. Direct response to the letter from individual Councillors was limited - probably reflecting the power of party discipline. The good news is that holding letters have been received from the Leader of the Council and the Mayor saying that they are looking into the matter and will report back - so the message seems to be getting through to the right people. We have since learned that there will be a meeting between officers of the Parks and Environment Department and representatives of allotment tenants to discuss the situation. Protest letters organized by individual sites/local associations to the Councillors of the ward in which their sites are located, have generally met with success in the form of messages of support.However, when the issue comes back to Council, we need as much support as we can get and sites and individual tenants who have not yet written to their local ward Councillor are urged to do so.

Posted 11th August, 2011

Newspaper Coverage of Planned Rental Increases

The latest edition of the Ealing Gazette contains a very interesting article on the planned increases in Ealing Council allotment rentals. The article contains some minor errors but basically gives a very good account of the present situation. The Ealing Allotment Holders’ Association referred to in the article does not exist and Patrick Williams remains puzzled why he was deemed to be its spokesman! Also as every allotment holder knows 22 yards is a chain not a pole. We understand that the meeting referred to by Cllr Mahfouz will actually involve a selected group of allotment representatives drawn from EAP, Local Allotment Associations and Site Managers. A wise move as otherwise the meeting would probably have been of a size to rival those called to discuss the ill-fated Ealing Tram! Nevertheless, the decision to consult with the Ealing allotment community is greatly welcomed. Expect further updates.

Posted 23rd August 2011

Meeting with Council Officers

A group of twelve tenants, consisting mainly of allotment site managers and/or representatives of Local Allotment Associations, met with Cllr Bassam Mahfouz (Portfolio holder for Transport and Leisure), Roger Jones (Director of Parks and Leisure) and Ian Ross (Parks and Leisure Manager responsible for Allotment Service) on September 14th to discuss the Council’s proposals on allotment rental increases. Cllr Mahfouz explained to the meeting that the Council, in response to cuts in the Local Government grant, had decided to discontinue the current Council subsidy of about £55K per annum to the Allotment Service and that this would result in an about 70 -75% increase in allotment rentals. In order to lessen the impact of this rise, he suggested a 55% rise in 2012-13 and a further 16% rise in 2013-14.

A lively discussion ensued during which the tenants group pointed out that such an increase would result in a situation where allotment tenants were being asked to fund the Pensioners’ Concession (currently funded by the Council). This they considered both unjust and to be contrary to assurances they had been given that this concession would remain untouched. They also pointed out that the result of transferring the funding of this concession to tenants increased the potential rental increase from about 31% to the 70-75% figure quoted by the Council. The tenants group argued that large increases in rentals of the type proposed by the Council would lead to hardship for many of the less well-off tenants who would be “priced-off” their plots. This in turn would inevitably lead to knock-on costs on Council health and welfare budgets that would largely off-set any savings made on the Allotment Service. They also pointed out that such increases, and the consequent lowering of allotment occupancy and reduction of overall rental income, would almost certainly trigger a vicious spiral in which the Council was forced to bring in further increases to compensate in a vain attempt to balance their books.

Cllr Mahfouz also raised the possibility of altering the management structure for Ealing’s allotments to give tenants more say in how they were run (Self Management, or some form of Trust Management). The tenants’ group responded that while they were not against such moves in principle this would need detailed discussion and that any such changes would need to be instituted before, not after, the Allotment Service had suffered irreparable damage. They suggested that the sensible way forward might be to introduce an interim increase, of the order of 25-30%, in 2012-13 and to leave any further increases in abeyance pending the results of discussions between tenants’ representatives and Council Officers in the coming year. The meeting concluded with Cllr Mahfouz agreeing to consult with Parks and Leisure Officers regarding any possible decreases in the current Allotment budget that might result in a reduced headline rate for rental increases and other possible ways forward. He pointed out that he is legally bound to announce the 2012-13 increases by 31st September but said that he would come back to the tenants’ group with any revised figures as soon as possible.

Posted 16th September 2011

Final Decision on Rental Increases

The Council have decided on a package of changes on allotment rental increases with the stated aim of ensuring that the Allotment Service is “self-financing” from 2014/2015 onwards. As we understand it, there will be a 40% increase in allotment rentals for 2012/13 followed by a further 10% increase in 2013/14. At the same time, Council expenditure on allotments will be reduced from about £112K per annum to £100K per annum.

This, in practice means that the rental for “standard” sites (the majority of Ealing’s sites) will go up from £9.78 per pole in 2011/12 to £13.68 per pole in 2012/13 with corresponding increases for “basic” and “extra” sites. This information should be posted on allotment gates by the end of this month.

Further information on this decision and its implications,will be provided in the Autumn edition of the EAP e-mail newsletter which will be sent out late September/early October. If you are not already signed up for the newsletter you can do so via the Contact Us link. A copy of the current newsletter is available via the EAP Newsletter link.

Posted 24th September 2011