I came across a press release from Birmingham City Council today with a podcast outlining its involvement in a project called SmartSpaces. This is of interest to me because it is about energy saving in public buildings and it is funded through Europe. For the specialists amongst you it is funded through the CIP ICT Policy Support Programme. The aim is to demonstrate how the use of ICT, in Birmingham’s case through the development of a dashboard approach can reduce energy consumption. Two major buildings in Birmingham have been chosen to trial this new approach – the Council House and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The Council is expecting to reduce energy consumption by over 20% in these two buildings.
I highlight this seemingly very interesting project because of the deep cuts the Council is having to make in its services and employment. The latest round of cuts is envisaged to lead to a drop of over 1000 people employed. A number of buildings in coming years are envisaged to be closed e.g. the older swimming pools. So given this downsizing in the Council’s activity and given the real desire expressed by this project to reduce energy bills I thought I would look at the proposed savings in the energy budget for the Council. Comparing a cut in the Council’s energy usage to that of making an employee redundant is worth thinking about. An employee living in Birmingham will spend much of her/his income in the City and this will have multiplier effects which will support other jobs. Money spent on energy will largely leak out of the city and the region as we do not produce energy and if the energy is produced using fossil fuel there is a the additional cost of the carbon tax as well.
The moral of the story in economic terms is – it is far better to cut £30,000 of the energy bill rather than make a worker redundant.
So that is the picture – what is the Council predicting. I must caveat these figures coming up with the point that anyone who can predict energy prices could make a lot of money; they are unstable but over the period involved in the budget cuts they are likely to rise. That is the consensus – so the cuts presented in the the consultation must have made an assumption about these prices. They don’t however let us know what that is. So with that proviso what are they expecting in the next four years for the Council’s energy bill. I have produced a graph to make this post more interesting as so far it is just words.
Well it is not very interesting really. The Council is proposing a cut of 2.3% in this year and after that nothing. The overall bill of £31m will be reduced by £700k this year and then no reductions after that for three years.
So this is concerning, one for reasons above that all other areas are facing cuts and this is the one area where it would be most beneficial to cut. The other for its impact on carbon emissions and obviously there is not a strict read through from energy costs to carbon emissions. It will depend whether the Council’s electricity comes from green sources but importantly much of its heating bill and some of its power (through the City Centre CHP scheme) will be gas fuelled.
The Council (and Birmingham) has a target of a 60% cut in emissions by 2027, and whilst that is from a historic base of 1990 I would suggest that the Council itself is unlikely to be close to meeting that and that these figures hint at the possibility that the Council is not making enough progress. That said the Council has had a significant programme of new buildings and refurbishment of old buildings in recent years; the New Library is far more energy efficient (in design terms it is I believe BREEAM Excellent) than the old library so it may had made real progress to date – so I am happy to be proved wrong.
This is not a diatribe, nor an accusation as there really is not enough information to make a sound judgement. It is rather a question, couldn’t and shouldn’t the Council be doing more to reduce its energy bills?
And one last point the part of the Council that is leading on the SmartSpace project – Digital Birmingham – is facing 100% budget cuts and some uncertainty about its future.
Details of the Council’s cuts to it energy bills can be found here (Look at Fact Sheet 27)