Some of you might be aware that last week two Liverpool Councillors, Cllr Nick Small and Cllr Laura Robertson-Collins, put a motion to City Council at the meeting on Wednesday 14th September entitled “Student Landlords and the City’s Tax Base”. This called for the Council to lobby the Government to grant them the powers to charge student landlords business rates. Papers for this meeting can be found here. This is where our problems began. Why was a motion that relates specifically to students put forward without any consultation of Students’ Unions or students? More fundamentally, why does the proposal only relate to student landlords and not all landlords? For these reasons, we suspected that it is “Council Tax through the back door” as it is obvious to us that landlords will simply pass on the higher rates to student tenants through increased rents.
Just for a bit of context the Government have announced that they will cut all of their grants to local councils by 2020, which accounts for about 44% of Liverpool City Council’s income. Hence, local councils are now looking for other sources of funding. Also note that nationally landlords do not pay business rates, whilst all other businesses do.
Before the Council meeting, we consulted with colleagues at Liverpool Students’ Union (representing LJMU) and Hope Students’ Union. The other SUs agreed with our stance and so we put this to the councillors. We met with Councillors Small and Robertson-Collins, as well as appealing to the local opposition parties to oppose the proposals. All parties agreed that students make a positive impact on the city, contributing circa £350million to the local economy. Further, the Greens and Liberal Democrats put forward changes to the motion. The Lib Dems’ amendment asked for recognition of the impact the proposals could have on students while the Greens called for a delay to the motion.
The Labour councillors agreed to make an addendum to the motion, adding reference to the positive contribution students make and a paragraph that agrees that, if the powers are granted by Government, the City Council will set up a working group involving the Students’ Unions and Universities, to ensure the student voice is heard on this matter, and that any additional costs will not be passed on to students.
Our concerns were also picked up by the local Echo newspaper demonstrating how people across Liverpool have taken an interest in this debate. I attended the meeting last Wednesday and while I was glad to see the proposers’ aforementioned alterations to the original motion, we do not believe they go far enough to address our concerns. Disappointingly, this saw the Greens and Lib Dems withdraw their edits, which we would have liked to have seen. However, we feel that we have made progress in raising our concerns and that the Council is now aware of the position of students and reminded of the importance in students having their say. While we appreciate the commitment to ensure that any additional costs are not passed on to students, we believe that significant work will need to be done to ensure this this promise is met. It is important that any proposals ensure that students are not disadvantaged and have access to high quality, well-managed and affordable accommodation.
Going forward, we are keeping open conversations with our colleagues at John Moores and Hope to ensure we keep tabs on this issue. We look forward to meeting with Councillors from all parties to discuss the important issue of student accommodation talk with us and are grateful for their acknowledgements. The fight for a decent and fair student housing system goes on…
If you have any questions or want to know more feel free to pop by my Office in the Guild (next to Starbucks).