Chelmsford City Council has pledged to keep its swimming pools open despite rocketing costs to keep them heated.
It is costing the authority an extra £480,000 this year to heat the swimming pools at Riverside and South Woodham Ferrers – double the amount from last year – and an extra £300,000 to put diesel in bin lorries due to rising fuel costs.
The decision to keep the swimming pools open comes amid a background of increasing numbers of public pools having to close due to energy and chorine shortages.
A BBC investigation found that about one in six pools have closed either temporarily or permanently, in the three years to March 2022.
Ukactive, an organisation which represents gyms and leisure centres, has blamed a shortage of staff, increasing energy costs and scarcity of chemicals.
Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said the authority would use reserves to cover its increasing financial pressures.
He said: “We will be using reserves to cover some of our energy costs in the short term but my message is very clearly that the government needs to step in.
“Only the government has the power and capacity to address the cost of living crisis, whether we are talking about households or councils.”
Inflation has significantly increased Chelmsford City Council’s budget gap, according to a new projection. The latest forecast of council finances estimates a shortfall of £4.2 million for 2023/24 – much higher than the deficit of £1.7 million expected as recently as last February.
The council’s cabinet agreed some of the council’s rainy day savings reserves can be used to bring down the gap to around £3.2 million last month.
The bigger shortfall has been caused by soaring inflation affecting the whole economy, resulting in greatly increased costs, lost income, and greater demand for key services such as temporary accommodation.
The council says that unpredictability of world events means that the forecast is likely to need significant revision in the months to come.
Council tax revenues are not Chelmsford City Council’s only source of income, but its other income streams such as parking, are also down as a result of both the cost-of-living crisis and changes brought about by the pandemic.
On top of big inflationary pressures in the form of rising costs, councils are also expecting the money they receive from central government to go down in the next financial year.
Mr Robinson is urging the government to properly support local government services at such a critical time.
He added: “Our bills are going up but we have no way of generating extra income to cover the costs.
“That is why government needs to step in and at the moment it is being ignored by the leadership – the two Tory candidates are trading slogans on things which are irrelevant.”