Northumberland Labour warns of school heating fears this winter

Opposition leaders have demanded answers after schools were told to expect a massive hike in energy prices this winter.

Monday, 4th October 2021, 7:42 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 3:37 pm
Northumberland Labour Group leader Scott Dickinson.

According to a letter from Northumberland County Council to head teachers, bills for electricity are predicted to surge by 26% and by as much as 48% for gas.

And it has prompted calls for a plan to ensure sites can keep their lights and heating on, as well as longer term initiatives to improve efficiency and reduce consumption across the county.

“We simply can’t understand the magnitude of these rises,” said Scott Dickinson, leader of the county council’s opposition Labour group.

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Labour asks what measures are being taken to ensure classrooms remain heated this winter.

“To be on the receiving end of this type of news is shocking for our schools and academies. It looks like these charges are not capped in the same way as domestic customers’ energy.”

Energy requirements in the North East’s education settings are handled by the North East Procurement Organisation (NEPO) and which is supposed to provide power at lower prices than the market average.

But the letter to headteachers cited “extremely volatile” energy costs in the UK and beyond, caused by factors including:

Cold weather during spring 2021 Increased demand for gas, combined with a fall in reserve stocks A fall in gas imports

Many schools had already feared heating costs would rise this winter due to Covid restrictions requiring additional ventilation in classrooms, putting further pressure on systems.

In an open letter to the county council’s leadership, Coun Scott warned the predicted rise in bills risked pushing schools “into serious financial trouble”.

He also requested details of the local authority’s plans to support schools which struggle to make ends meet in the coming months and how they would ensure the lights stay on, as well as information on any approaches to the government for help.

Cath McEvoy-Carr, the council’s executive director for adult social care and children’s services, said: “Northumberland schools will continue to receive our advice and support and the council will pass on any additional funding it receives for this from central Government.”

Labour also questioned what financial support, if any, the council was providing to ensure no frontline services are affected if the financial position worsens due to higher energy costs.

James Harrison, Local Democracy Reporting Service