Energy costs biggest challenge facing Pembrokeshire schools and leisure centres

ENERGY costs are the biggest challenge facing schools and leisure centres once the council’s fixed energy contracts come to an end.

The leisure service – and how it recovers post covid – were the focus of the services overview and scrutiny committee this week and councillors heard that there are limited opportunities to “manage utility costs down significantly.”

Deputy leader Cllr Paul Miller, who used to be responsible for the leisure cabinet portfolio, told the committee that the council’s fixed price energy contract finishes at the end of the financial year with next year’s prices unknown and without government intervention.

“It will, without question, affect service delivery across the board. We’re talking about six, eight, then times our energy costs” with schools and leisure centres big energy users.

Opportunities to improve efficiency are limited with combined heat and power units, solar panel, LED light savings already in place, so “not having as many swimming pools” would be the way to reduce costs but any decisions of that kind would be for if prices did not stabilise in future, said Cllr Miller.

Pembrokeshire County Council’s ten year leisure strategy is to be reviewed in light of covid and the cost of living crisis members heard, although “there is nothing fundamentally broken about the service.”

Head of leisure and cultural services Mike Cavanagh added at Monday’s (September 26) there was a balance to be struck between any increases to combat inflation and “stymieing any growth.”

Membership is back to around 80 per cent of pre-covid figures, leisure services manager Gary Nicholas said, with around 900,000 current users but what concerns everybody is “what we look like over the next six to 12 months with the cost of living crisis that we are all facing.”

Mr Cavanagh added the aim was to grow beyond pre-covid levels but anyone struggling financially is “going to be looking at those direct debits seeing leisure membership and thinking about whether they can afford to eat and heat their homes – it’s an obvious one to cut.”

He said that decision would be made even easier if charges were increased significantly.

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