Cross-party support needed to help vunerable

Bath & NE Somerset’s Labour councillors are looking for cross-party support from the Lib-Dem administration for their five-point call to action to give more support to ‘warm spaces’ this winter. A motion which will be considered at this Thursday’s council meeting.

The Council had announced £250 grants, ‘hublets’ in libraries and a map of approved warm spaces. But Labour councillors have heard from conversations with community groups and churches – who know their residents better than anyone– that they can’t run ‘warm spaces’ without greater Council help in a range of areas.

Labour Group leader Robin Moss (Westfield) says, “We know money’s tight, but working together, we can build on the Council’s first steps. Vulnerable people are anxious, at home in the cold, and it’s only mid-November. Community groups have been calling out for Council help to ease this fear as well as provide warmth because they can’t help people on their own.”

Thursday’s Labour motion calls on their Liberal Democrat colleagues to maximise the experience the Council gained from the pandemic, to prioritise keeping people warm and safe this winter.

“Cross-party collaboration is essential in times like these,” says Moss. He explains: “Because there’s a Lib Dem majority on the Council, without their support, community organisations across B&NES wouldn’t get the specific help they need, and benefit from our Council’s impressive expertise and scale.” 

“We are very relieved that the Lib Dem administration agrees with us that as a Council, we can do much more than the current offer. We look forward to fast action, and rapid results for community groups and churches who must get the help they need as fast as possible.”

The Labour team developed a practical five-point action plan to address community groups’ concerns, and reached out to their Liberal Democrat colleagues to help implement it. Now, they hope, anxious residents and community groups can have the confidence that B&NES won’t let anyone sit at home in the perishing cold this winter. 

Westfield councillor Eleanor Jackson said, “This is good news. Working smart’s about so much more than a small cheque or a budget sheet bottom line. The ongoing uncertainty about ample local warm spaces, fuel prices and the wider cost of living is crippling for thousands across Bath and North East Somerset.”

Paulton’s Liz Hardman added, “We have to move quickly, now we have political agreement. People just aren’t putting the heating on, because they’ve been worried they might have to make their ever-shrinking budget reach all the way to Easter. Now practical help is being unlocked, we have to make sure it results in warm and safe winters for everyone who needs it.”

Because balancing the Council’s budget is a legal requirement, Labour is also asking the Council whether it’s thought about viewing the current cost of living crisis as a special case, which would allow it to unlock funds to provide much-needed help. In addition, Group Leader Robin Moss has asked about any work the Council has done to support prospective warm spaces with insulation and heating costs, and to plan ahead for next year’s winter, too.

Echoing the administration’s concerns about the financial landscape, Group member Grant Johnson, who’s also a councillor in Paulton, says, “This is a great step forwards. I’m relieved our Lib Dem colleagues have taken our action plan to heart and will give communities and residents what they desperately need. Because it’s not just budget pressures that are ‘unprecedented’ – our friends and neighbours face ‘unprecedented pressures,’ and we have a responsibility to support them in every way we can.”

Moss agrees: “I am heartened to see that with political will, all of us councillors, no matter our party, can do something about the big issues facing Bath & North East Somerset residents. This is good news but only a first step; now the administration has to deliver.”

Labour’s five-point plan to help community organisations asks the Council to set up a community organisation network that will meet by 30 November, and whose goal is to:

  1. Work with partners to ensure that vulnerable residents have the shortest possible journey to a warm space
  2. Help residents access community transport that enables access and safe travel home 
  3. Wherever possible, place other useful facilities e.g. food banks, onsite
  4. Build community organisations’ capabilities and capacity: e.g. help with volunteer training / DBS checks; refreshment facilities; insurance; secure fuel storage, risk assessments and more
  5. Provide secure and hygienic facilities which take Covid and ‘flu into consideration, as well as facilities outside of office hours.

“I am glad Labour’s effort has brought about this result – because support is always about more than funding,” says Moss. “It’s advice, expertise, shared endeavour, and being a community.”