EVERY year, East Lothian Council has to grapple with council budgeting and spending decisions.

In recent years, this process has been made much more difficult by year-on-year real-terms cuts in funding by the SNP Government.

This year, following the Covid-19 pandemic, this has been exceptionally complex.

Despite these difficulties, the Conservative Group has been pushing hard for a freeze on council rents and, at the time of writing, I think we have managed to deliver this for communities.

The council doesn’t just have one budget. Instead, our finances are split into two separate parts.

There’s the general services budget, which funds council services like education, social care, children’s services and much else. This is partly financed by council tax but the majority of it comes from a grant from national government, which is why cuts bite so hard.

There is also a second area, known as the housing revenue account. This is where the social housing side of the council sits, with its own budgeting measures and spending plans.

The reason this separation exists is to ensure that rent payers are never in the situation of their rents being used to directly ‘subsidise’ council taxpayers and vice versa.

When we examine the housing revenue account each year, we have to balance issues such as setting rent levels, what to invest in new council houses and what to spend on modernisation, for example installing new kitchens, new bathrooms.

This process involves balancing income with debt to ensure our finances are sustainable.

Not so long ago, when the SNP ran East Lothian Council, the finances got into a mess and we were very nearly running on empty.

Presently in East Lothian, the housing revenue account is in a healthy financial state. There is also a fairly ambitious plan for investment in the housing stock, including investing in around 790 new houses over the next five years and investment in existing properties. This is an investment everyone, I think, would support.

But this year, we need to look after existing tenants, who are feeling the pressure of Covid-19. The Labour administration proposed raising rents by two per cent this year, which is less than recent years and lower than the planned five per cent increase in rent.

But myself and colleagues on the Conservative Group argued that a modest rise would not be fair for council house tenants. We believe a rent freeze is sustainable, without having to cut back on investment in new council houses or enhancing people’s existing homes.

That’s why we are pleased to welcome a common sense, compassionate freeze in council rents for the forthcoming year.