Heating charge increase ‘called-in’
Rory Sheehan – Local Democracy Reporter
A Welsh council’s decision to increase heating bills for residents living in the authority’s communal complexes has been ‘called-in’.
Last week the Flintshire Council’s cabinet agreed to follow recommendations to increase the charges in light of a whopping hike in the authority’s commercial gas contract.
But opposition councillors have been granted the opportunity to review the decision.
The cabinet decision was made in light of the council having just renewed its industrial and commercial gas contract, which landed it with an eye-watering 420 per cent increase in line with the soaring rise in national market rates.
Flintshire Council has eight communal heating schemes, with 417 properties on communal heating systems.
Tenants had been written to and notified they will be facing increased heating bills, based on the prior year’s energy use.
Charges range from £677 for a one-bed through to £1,049 for a three-bed tenancy, within the average range being paid by householders and the council’s other social housing tenants.
Spelling out the reasons for the increase at last week’s cabinet meeting, Rachel Corbelli, strategic finance manager, explained the authority had looked at a number of ways to minimise the impact to tenants including spreading the cost over several years.
But that option would risk the council not being able to fully recover the costs and could see further increases due to the instability in the gas market.
This was backed by cabinet member for housing, Shotton West Cllr Sean Bibby (Lab) who proposed the changes.
He said: “Clearly there were concerns about financial implications to tenants.
“We did give a commitment we would do further work following on from scrutiny last week, trying to look at ways we could mitigate any financial impact of these very significant increases.
“But I think as the service manager has re-laid in her report, I don’t think there’s any further scope that we can do to spread those costs out over a longer period.”
However, opposition councillors still feel there are other options and have called the decision in to be reviewed by the housing scrutiny committee.
For a call-in to happen, the Chief Officer (Governance) or Head of Democratic Services must receive a request from the chair of the relevant scrutiny committee or at least four members of the council – which has now happened.
Five councillors have endorsed a call-in and they are; Connah’s Quay Central Cllr Bernie Attridge, leader of the Independent opposition, Treuddyn Cllr Allan Marshall, Connah’s Quay South Cllr Bill Crease, Queensferry and Sealand Cllr Dale Selvester, and Northop Cllr Linda Thew, all members of the Independent opposition group.
Their reasons for calling in the decision have been provided in the call-in note which describes the increased charges as “excessive”.
It asks the council to consider spreading the cost across three years and with a cap in place.
They also cite a lack of detail available about how and when new meters will be installed in all communal areas, and how non-residents that use the facilities regularly will be charged.
Flintshire Council’s housing scrutiny committee will now meet to discuss and review the decision on Monday (July 3).
If the committee is not satisfied with the decision and reasons given for it, it could be taken to a full council meeting to decide whether it should be reversed or not.
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