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Working to reduce our energy consumption and costs

A column by Councillor Richard Rout, Suffolk County Council’s Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance and Environment
Published: 10 Jan 2023

One year ago, I announced that Suffolk County Council will begin presenting a carbon budget alongside our annual finance budget.

Our finance budget underpins everything we do - it outlines how much money there is to spend, where that money comes from and how we plan to spend it.

A carbon budget is equally as important, as it allows us to measure the council’s carbon emissions, monitor our environmental impact, and identify actions and costs needed to reduce emissions.

Papers released last month, ahead of yesterday’s Council Scrutiny Committee meeting, explain the work that the council has been doing in the last year, as it works towards net zero by 2030.

Data from the last couple of years has been interesting, with Covid playing a big part. With many staff working from home and not travelling as much, we saw a notable drop in our carbon emissions. Naturally, this has risen again slightly as staff have begun to come back into office, but levels are declining.

Over the last couple of years, we have reduced our carbon emissions by 15%, or 4,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent. That is really encouraging progress, but I’m very open about the fact we still have a long way to go and much work to do.
A headshot of Councillor Richard Rout
Councillor Richard Rout

Since March 2019, when we declared a climate emergency, I have been adamant that achieving net zero by 2030 will be tough. But it’s a challenge that we simply must rise to, so that we can stand tall as an authority knowing that we’re doing the best we can to reduce our operating costs as an organisation and eliminate as many carbon emissions as possible.

The council is not immune to the rising energy costs that you are experiencing too. Our work to reduce emissions also has an important role to play in making our buildings more efficient and cheaper to run.

Some of the changes we are making, are really an extension of some of the things we have all been doing around our own homes to save energy. For example, monitoring temperatures and adjusting the level that heating is set to, switching off electrics that don’t need to be on all the time, not heating unoccupied rooms, and installing more efficient LED lighting.

We have closely monitored the gas consumption in one of our properties, Constantine House near Ipswich Town Football Club, and have managed to reduce it by 80% over a 12-month period. We can take learning from that project to apply to many of our other buildings, to save even more energy and money. However the challenge is that the 90 or so buildings that we own are all different!

There are many other technical things we are doing and looking at installing, such as de-stratification fans, thermal insulation improvements for buildings, remote energy metering, installing micro-louvres, digital twin computer modelling of hydraulic systems, hybrid boilers and heat pumps.

Again, this is the same approach many of us our taking in our own homes – investing in energy efficient changes now to save money in the long term. As a council, it’s particularly important that we continue evaluating and reviewing our systems and are aware of future technologies so that we can continue to invest in the right way to deliver savings and value for money to Suffolk’s residents.

Talking of investment, that brings me on to our plans for how we spend money in the new financial year. I’d like to thank all of you once more, who took part in our budget survey late last year – over 2,600 of you.

Adult and children’s care were at the heart of our budget setting last year, and are again this year. This is exactly what you told us in the public survey too, so we are all in agreement about investing more in these areas, and it meets one of our four ambitions for Suffolk - to look after people’s health and wellbeing.

This year, it’s a case of being prudent across all areas of the organisation. Even though we have created £15.5m of savings, our frontline services are protected and receiving more funding.

Alongside an increase in our funding from Government, and a history of excellent financial management at the council, I’m proud that we’ve been able to navigate our way through the extremely turbulent, economic waters caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and Vladimir Putin’s illegal war in Ukraine.

We will be able to ensure that the services which mean the most to people, are still provided.