Derby could go dark as bills for energy use soar

today6 September 2022 2

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Recruitment could be frozen, street lights turned off and cutbacks made in a swathe of core services as Derby City Council is hit by the cost of living crisis. Bosses say they are being hit by a £10.8 million “perfect storm” of financial pressures and have launched a major review into finances and public spending. Worried leaders are having to take action as the “biggest financial crisis in decades” now begins to hit councils as well as households.

The city council’s own energy bill is £1 million more than last year as UK inflation rates reach as high as over 10 per cent. Worried Conservative cabinet leaders have penned a letter to new Prime Minister Liz Truss calling for urgent funding to help the council over the next few years – but there are fears that not enough will help come, meaning more “difficult choices” may lie ahead in the long term.

Read more: Dad angry at state of ‘gross’ ‘neglected’ Derby park

There are also fears this financial crisis is so bad, the council won’t be able to meet a legal requirement to deliver a balanced budget at the end of the financial year. All this means that dark times appear to be ahead at the council – literally.

That’s because the council’s street lighting costs are forecast to rise by £500,000 because of the increasing cost of electricity. It means the council is now exploring options in the way it runs street lights across the city in the future, with bosses indicating there may need to alter the times street lights switch on and off to cut down on costs.

Future options on social care costs for children and adults are also being closely reviewed. The council is also looking at saving more than £1 million on Home to School transport costs – a scheme which supports children with learning difficulties – and is working with users and parents to see what cost-cutting measures are practicable.

The council is also closely looking at recruitment. According to the council’s website more than 75 jobs are vacant. But those numbers may be significantly reduced as the council looks to see what recruitment is deemed to be “essential”. Officers say they have no plans to make redundancies to existing staff this financial year.

The council is also reviewing all of its current capital projects – building schemes – to see what savings can be made. A council statement says: “Proposals for spending will be reviewed to see if it’s essential for this financial year. Where we have staff vacancies, colleagues will be asked to consider what we can no longer do with less staff, and the risks of not recruiting, so we can ensure we fill jobs that are essential.”

Councillor Jonathan Smale, cabinet member for finance, said he was deeply worried about the situation and called on the Government to help the council and the people of Derby as much as possible. “I feel we are now at a crossroads where the Government do really need to intervene,” he said.

“They need to support us but I do have concerns whether they will do. We genuinely need it. We are at a crossroads where we are going to have to potentially look at some difficult choices in future years for the budget. However, I personally feel local government will come at the bottom of the list when it comes to support packages because I think the focus will be to support each individual household across the UK. “

Simon Riley, strategic director for corporate finances at Derby City Council, insisted the city council’s financial position was better than other local councils currently but stressed delivering a balanced budget was going to prove a massive challenge moving forward – despite it being a legal requirement for any council.

Mr Riley said: “Do we feel we’ll get down to a balanced budget by end of the (financial) year? I think most local councils are still not sure and we are still not sure whether we will get any additional funding. There’s no indications so far on that.

“But we are working actively to try and get around the overspend. But I don’t think any councillor, any political party will be saying we have absolute uncertainty that we can balance the budget by the end of the year.”

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