Due to the increase in energy prices, feared supply bottlenecks and additional burdens such as the gas surcharge, German citizens have to be prepared for restrictions on services in the municipalities. “The sharply rising gas and electricity prices are hitting the districts and communities hard. That cannot be compensated for with energy savings alone,” warns the President of the German District Association, Reinhard Sager. There will be a whole series of municipalities "which have to compensate for this by restricting the offer, as far as legally required services are concerned," said Sager WELT.
Many municipal services are part of services of general interest – such as schools, daycare centers, hospitals or public administration and local transport. The services provided there are defined by law; the cities and municipalities can hardly make any compromises in these areas. "If high energy prices force you to do so, you will have to do it with voluntary services, such as the promotion of culture or clubs," says Gerd Landsberg, Managing Director of the German Association of Towns and Municipalities.
Voluntary services account for an average of 15 to 20 percent of municipal expenditure. "The municipalities will also postpone investments such as in new schools, the development of building areas or cycle paths and increase debt," predicts Landsberg. Services such as using the swimming pool would become more expensive. He warns of the consequences of such steps: "Many of the voluntary services, for example for cultural and club life, are extremely important for social cohesion. Without appropriate offers, people go crazy,” says Landsberg.
The representatives of the municipal clinics are already warning of an imbalance in the hospitals, which could also lead to a reduction in services. Many hospitals are hardly making any profits as a result of the corona pandemic, and the financial buffer is shrinking.
The rising energy prices are now massively exacerbating the problems, says Nils Dehne, Managing Director of the Alliance for Large Municipal Hospitals: “Many hospitals cannot survive without short-term liquidity support from the municipalities. And where the municipalities cannot do that, there is a risk of insolvency,” says Dehne. “It is already necessary that services that are not absolutely necessary have to be postponed. So far, this has been due to the increasing shortage of staff.” In many cases, savings plans alone are no longer sufficient to stabilize the situation in the clinics, explains the chairman of the Association of Municipal Hospitals and head of the Itzehoe Clinic, Bernhard Ziegler: “The costs are rising, but we can't increase the revenue. We need help from the federal government or the municipalities.”
At his first press conference after the summer break, Green Party leader Omid Nouripour recalled the 1992 pogrom in Rostock-Lichtenhagen. He also emphasized solidarity with Ukraine and pointed out the dangers surrounding the Zaporizhia nuclear power plant.
The cities and municipalities will also find it difficult to provide help because they have previously financed some of their tasks through the public utility company: they often earned money from the energy business, which was used to support other, chronically deficit areas such as swimming pools or sports facilities. Rising energy prices and the gas levy, which is intended to support gas importers, are now bringing more and more municipal utilities to the brink of efficiency. “The levy, as it is currently designed, can lead to higher risks for the municipal utilities. Because it does not apply to all contracts and tariffs,” says Helmut Dedy, General Manager of the German Association of Cities. The association of municipal companies, which represents the municipal utilities, recently even warned of a wave of bankruptcies - and insolvencies would have to be absorbed by the municipalities.
In view of the overall situation, libraries are preparing to cut back on offerings. Like other public institutions, they are also required to save 15 to 20 percent of their energy consumption. "This cannot be achieved by lowering the room temperatures alone, but only by possible closing days," announced a spokeswoman for the German Library Association, in which, among other things, the large state libraries and smaller community libraries are organized. In the coming weeks, recommendations for action are to be developed on how libraries can save energy and at the same time fulfill their social mission.
Meanwhile, private providers of offers in the cities and municipalities face even greater problems than municipal institutions - because they cannot assume state aid. “In the past few years we have already faced massive price increases due to rising energy prices. In the case of commercial rental properties, the operating cost bills in the past year were 63 percent higher than in 2020," says Lars Békési, Managing Director of the Association of Small and Medium-Sized Daycare Providers. It is precisely specified how warm rooms for childcare must be. There shouldn't be any compromises.
At the same time, daycare centers could not easily pass the costs on to the parents. "We are at a point where the profitability of day care centers has to be questioned," says Békési. The facilities could only save on staff, which would result in poorer care work; or by shortening the opening hours. "Daycare centers must be exempted from the gas surcharge," demands the association's managing director: "That could have been arranged in advance, but politicians preferred to have a nice summer vacation."
The Federal Association of Private Providers of Social Services (bpa) also sees hard times ahead for its around 12,000 member institutions nationwide. “If gas bills increase tenfold within a few weeks, even solid care facilities will find themselves in need,” says Schleswig-Holstein bpa state chairman Mathias Steinbuck, who represents facilities for outpatient and inpatient care, disability assistance and child and youth welfare. Steinbuck demands: "The long-term care insurance funds have a duty to look for pragmatic solutions with us in the short term."
Gerd Landsberg from the Association of Towns and Municipalities sees a fundamental need for action: "The federal government must ask itself whether it wants to stick to processing the coalition agreement or support the municipalities, which provide indispensable services for people every day."
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