New measures to help residents manage the impact of the cost of living crisis are being considered by Stevenage Borough Council.

At a meeting of the council’s executive on Wednesday, September 14, the Labour-run council set out measures that are already in place, and further proposals that are under consideration.

Many have been struggling to cope with soaring energy costs – the annual bill for a typical household will rise to £2,500 from October 1 – and rising inflation, currently at 9.9 per cent.

The Comet: Households have been struggling to deal with rising inflationHouseholds have been struggling to deal with rising inflation (Image: Pexels)

In July, the council declared a cost of living emergency in Stevenage and established a Cost of Living Task Force to create an action plan. This action plan is currently being worked on, and will be returned to the executive in October.

Proposals under consideration include:

  • A warm spaces initiative in collaboration with external partners

  • Offering financial MOTs to people via Citizens Advice

  • Surveying community associations to understand the impact on them, and any support they may require

  • Holding a Stevenage Together meeting to coordinate work with partners

The plan will also consider how the council can coordinate government support and work with partner organisations to ensure help is targeted towards where it is most needed.

Measures that have already been taken include the setting up of an information hub on the council’s website, providing details on financial support that is available.

The council is also continuing to make payments to food banks and schools via the Household Support Fund, and is bidding for funding to improve the energy efficiency of its housing stock.

Earlier this year, the council was awarded £1.8m of funding from the Social Housing Decarbonisation Fund. This will cover the costs of upgrading 400 social homes in Stevenage to an EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) rating of C or above, with an estimated completion date of March 2023.

There are concerns that the council itself will struggle to cope with the crisis. Staffing costs are expected to increase, and it is estimated that rising energy prices will increase its costs by £300,000 this year, and £460,000 across the 2023/24 financial year.

Cllr Sharon Taylor, council leader, pointed to the millions of pounds being invested in the town as a long-term solution to the crisis, but added “we need to make sure that people in our community get the best deal possible” from the investment.

The Comet: Cllr Sharon Taylor warned residents that this winter will be difficultCllr Sharon Taylor warned residents that this winter will be difficult (Image: Archant)

She said: “We’re not going to bury our head in the sand and hope it [the crisis] will go away because it won’t, it’s going to be a difficult winter … but we will do everything we can to support our community.”

One measure proposed by the council in July was for this year’s 1.25 per cent increase in National Insurance to be scrapped by the Conservative government. The government has now confirmed that this will be reversed in November.

Two months ago, Cllr Phil Bibby, leader of Stevenage Conservatives in the council, opposed this reversal. Now he has said: “Although the NI increase was aimed at improving social care, this has now been reversed as part of the tax cutting strategy which, added to cash support and energy price capping already announced, will help residents even further – but it is only right that the Chancellor has committed to continue giving this money towards the care of those in need.”

The Comet: Cllr Phil Bibby, leader of Stevenage Conservatives in the councilCllr Phil Bibby, leader of Stevenage Conservatives in the council (Image: Herts County Council)

Responding to the council’s latest updates on measures to tackle the crisis, Cllr Bibby added: “We are pleased that the council are committed to supporting the government in doing as much as it can to help residents cope with the increased cost of living, caused by global influences over which we have little or no influence.

"The most significant things that can be done to help reduce energy bills is the retrofitting of energy efficient measures in the social housing stock, and insisting on new builds incorporating these from the outset. We are looking to the administration for a realistic plan in this regard, and will support them in whatever way we can.”

Cllr Robin Parker, leader of Stevenage Liberal Democrats, said "there is very little the council can do about the cost of living - it's a matter for central government and the council cannot wave a magic wand.

The Comet: Liberal Democrat group leader Robin Parker said he has investigated the issue of payments for temp staff previously.Liberal Democrat group leader Robin Parker said he has investigated the issue of payments for temp staff previously. (Image: © 2013 David Hartnup -

"Lots of the initiatives mentioned by the council are not new, and it's unclear how some of the new initiatives would work. The warm space proposal, for example, is a good idea and one that I have previously raised - but how would it work in practice?

"In the longer-term, the council should have been improving the energy standards of its housing stock. We have been saying this for 20 years, but they have not invested enough in insulation, solar panels and double-glazing. The backlog of repairs is also a problem, with people struggling to get jobs done from the existing housing budget - and this includes repairs to broken double-glazing.

"Getting help from SBC is difficult until they sort out their appalling telephone answer wait times. The council needs to ensure its present commitments operate effectively before launching new initiatives."