Council buildings could be mothballed as cost of living crisis bites
Some Powys County Council’s buildings could be mothballed to save money on energy costs, as the authority braces itself for a grim financial year.
At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Tuesday, September 27, councillors looked at a financial planning update that provides the principles of how the authority will try to sail through the stormy economic seas.
Last March the council approved a Medium-Term Financial Strategy which sets out its spending plans until 2027.
But the economic situation has changed drastically in six months which means that plans have to be re-assessed and revised.
The council report stated that energy costs for schools, council buildings and street lighting is expected to go up by more than £7.6 million in 2023/24.
Head of finance Jane Thomas said: “In terms of energy costs we have contracts in place through Crown Commercial Services for the current financial year and that has offered us a level of protection.
“But as those contracts are renewed from April (2023), then the full impact of the inflationary pressures that we have been seeing will hit the council.”
Cabinet member for a greener Powys, Cllr Jackie Charlton said: “Can we shut down buildings for a period of time if they are not being used?
“I’m not sure how our County Hall is being used – whenever I go to the building it seems to be very empty.
“What strategies do we have in place to reduce all those other costs such as fuel that’s adding to our problems at the moment.”
Ms Thomas said that senior managers had met earlier in September to “understand the situation.”
Ms Thomas explained that “wherever possible” travel would be limited, and that the heating turned down “a couple of notches” when it is switched on in council buildings.
Ms Thomas said: “We will be looking at our properties and council buildings, some could potentially be mothballed.”
Cabinet member for a more prosperous Powys Cllr David Selby, asked if anyone had seen a “situation quite like this” before.
Cllr Selby said: “Does central government, whether in Cardiff or London understand the pressures that all councils are facing?”
Ms Thomas said: “I have never seen anything changing our costs so quickly as we are seeing here and that’s reflected across Wales.
“Welsh Government do not have the spare funding available to support us for this unless we see further funding coming from the UK Government.”
Council leader, Cllr James Gibson-Watt said: “We need to understand that business as usual has gone.
“There’s no way we are going to place the council’s finances on a sustainable footing and secure the services that our residents need if we don’t find a way of delivering these services at a significantly lower cost.”
“Tinkering around the edges and making savings here and there is not going to be the answer.”
Chief executive Dr Caroline Turner: “That will require significant service redesign in some places otherwise the other options in terms of delivering services are unpalatable – it’s vital we work across the council on this.”
Cabinet agreed the recommendations and the report will also be discussed by the Finance Panel at a future meeting.
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