BARNSLEY Council will support some of the town’s most vulnerable residents this winter through ‘its biggest package in a long time’ - worth £6m.
At Thursday’s full council meeting, Lib Dem Couns Richard Denton and Chris Wray put forward the Community Warm Spaces project, which would have seen residents have a place to go which would provide free heating to reduce energy bills.
However, an amendment put forward by the leader of Barnsley Council Sir Steve Houghton and Coun James Higginbottom earlier this week was instead passed through the meeting.
Their amendment, which Lib Dem councillors believed was more of an ulterior motion, will support residents even further than the initial project, they say.
The council will utilise the £2.3m from its Household Support Grant to prioritise the most vulnerable in the borough over the winter period.
This will include £150 energy rebates to those households who were not eligible for the government’s first grant, a £326 cost-of-living payment which will be sent to those in receipt of qualifying benefits from the government’s first payment, and a £150 cost-of-living payment to those on disability benefit who were not initially eligible for the nationwide scheme.
There will also be a £650 cost-of-living payment distributed via Post Office vouchers to those who claim housing benefit, but were also not eligible for the government’s scheme.
The council will utilise the funding to offer a £500,000 grant support to community groups to provide things such as food and fuel, whilst they will extend funding available through the Local Welfare Assistance scheme to a total of £240,000.
Sir Steve said: “We can’t support the (original) motion now in its current form.
“There is no £2,500 cap on energy bills - it does not exist.
“We need to kill the idea there is some sort of cap because there isn’t.
“We need to be taking action now - we don’t have months.
“The crisis is now and not at the end of November.”
The Lib Dem motion would have seen residents been able to access a warm space in the community - but the council say its Welcoming Spaces already promote its existing buildings as places that people can utilise.
“If people have to go out of their homes to stay warm then there’s something wrong,” Coun Houghton added.
“The £6m resolution is to deal with those who are on the wrong side of the cut-off points.
“We have the biggest package of support we’ve done in a long time.
“Labour cares for people in Barnsley - that’s its job.”
The council also confirmed it is set to bring forward a cabinet report to introduce a £3m Affordable Warmer Homes scheme which will provide residents with financial support to help with energy debts.
The Liberal Democrats, Labour-controlled Barnsley Council’s official opposition, said the party should be ‘embarrassed’ by the amendment.
Coun Chris Wray said: “This is a gutting amendment to our motion on warm spaces for residents in what will be the hardest winter in a generation.
“We’re incredibly disappointed that they have seen fit to put in a motion that simply pats themselves on the back and then proposes to use money given to them by the government on what it has to be used for.
“The ‘welcoming spaces’ mentioned are old news and were never designed for this purpose.
“While we are working in Dodworth, Penistone and elsewhere to find residents places to warm up this winter, Labour have decided to put politics before people and leave residents out in the cold.”
But Coun Houghton said the plans are not something to be embarrassed about, and instead he is proud of them.
“The reality is that people need help,” he added.
“Borough before party is what Labour will do.”
In regards to the extent of the £6m package he added: “I doubt many councils will be doing that.”