Council proposes a £15 million fund to counter ‘rampant energy inflation’
Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A £15 million energy fund to help heat schools, care homes, leisure centres, warm hubs and other council buildings is planned in Swansea. The fund is one of many proposals outlined by council leaders in their draft budget for 2023-24.
Rampant energy inflation is likely to push the authority’s energy bill from £5 million to £20 million, placing huge demands on schools and operators of other council-owned buildings without extra financial support.
The £15 million fund would be split up, with schools allocated £6.5 million, council departments £6.5 million, and leisure centres, care homes and warm hubs £2 million.
Meanwhile schools as a whole are likely to get a 5.6% increase in funding – worth £10 million – although this figure assumes that they make savings of £3 million during the year.
Social services will get more money, although no figure were given in the cabinet report, while the place department – which covers waste, roads and the environment – would get more if it weren’t for the removal of an undisclosed one-off sum of money.
Council leader Rob Stewart said: “The better-than-expected funding settlement for this year demonstrates the Welsh Government has listened to our concerns and recognise the financial challenges we face are not of our making.
“But record inflation and the cost-of-living crisis means that Swansea, like all other councils across the UK, will face difficult choices in the coming years.”
The big picture is that the council is facing just over £60 million of extra costs in 2023-24, mainly energy and staff pay increases. The good news is that it’s set to receive £35 million more – principally from the Welsh Government but also from council tax payers.
No council tax percentage increase was mentioned in the report but finance chiefs hope to rake in just over £4 million more next year, this despite the actual tax base – the number of people paying it – reducing for various reasons. A rough rule of thumb is that every 1% rise in council tax raises £1 million.
That leaves a £25 million shortfall, which will be met by savings and increases in fees and charges and extra commercial income.
The place department alone is expected to contribute nearly £9 million to the savings pot, which will require hikes in car park charges, cemetery and crematorium fees, and Swansea Market rent charges, among others. There’ll also be a “reallocation” of cleansing project teams, higher planning application fees, and an increase in paid-for work carried out by the building services team.
The social services department will increase fees and charges by around 10% and not fill £1 million worth of vacant posts, among other savings measures. And schools, as mentioned above, will need to make savings of £3 million.
The budget proposals envisage 68 full-time council jobs being at risk but this does not equate to compulsory redundancies.
A public consultation will take place on the proposals, subject to approval by cabinet on December 22, as well as discussions with trade unions. The budget for 2023-24 won’t be set until early March, once public feedback has been considered.
Council chiefs also plan to add £50 million of borrowing to its already large capital spending programme, which covers things like new schools and council-led projects like the Swansea Arena.
A further sum of around £20 million will be borrowed to build a new seawall in Mumbles but it’ll be reimbursed by the Welsh Government.
The council’s gross budget, which includes the various fees and charges it levies and income it raises as well as Welsh Government and council tax funding, is more than £820 million per year – or £1.9 million per day.
Cllr Stewart said: “We’ve been investing record amounts in front-line services and the recovery since the pandemic. In the last year we’ve seen Swansea Arena open, more new schools opening and investment worth hundreds of millions of pounds to improve thousands of family homes for our tenants.
“As well as that, we’ve been making sure grants people are entitled to have been getting into families’ pockets, and we’re working closely with local organisations and groups to set up a network of Swansea Spaces where people can go for a safe and warm welcome.”
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