The recommendation in Swindon Borough Council’s budget proposals for next financial year to turn some street lights off at night has grabbed a few headlines. As I’ve mentioned before, turning off street lights is nothing new; it’s how things used to be. What is new is the amount it costs to turn the lights off. From the council’s figures, simply switching off — permanently — 481 street lights in rural areas is relatively cheap: a one-off cost of £5000 to save £11,000 per year. But putting a timer on street lights in residential areas to turn them off in the middle of the night will cost almost £½M — £450k to be more precise — and will take six years for the savings to recover that cost.
With the council spending almost £½M on turning out the lights and almost another £½M on borough-wide wireless internet, one has to wonder just how much bigger than £12M the hole in the council’s budget would have to be before its cabinet members practice the fiscal rigour that some of them are so fond of preaching to others.