Cost of living crisis: Edinburgh councillors warned that 'heat banks' are not a long-term solution

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City prepares to use council buildings as warm spaces this winter

‘Heat banks’ should not become a “long-term sticking plaster” for people struggling to pay their energy bills, the council has been warned, as it prepares to use libraries and community centres as warm spaces this winter. Plans have been drawn up by officials with work underway to identify ‘community centres, museums and galleries and neighbourhood offices’ across the city that could be utilised.

Local authorities up and down the UK are also setting up the so-called heat banks within public buildings in response to the energy crisis, which is expected to plunge many into fuel poverty as temperatures drop in the coming months. One city councillor said it was estimated “50 to 60 per cent of households” in Edinburgh will be impacted, adding: “We as members need to be ready for that before winter actually hits.”

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The policy and sustainability committee agreed the warm spaces proposals on Tuesday (November 1) – as members were warned they should not become normalised in the same way food banks have. Ian Brooke, from Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations’ Council (EVOC), said: “People are really, really angry at the situation we find ourselves in with the cost of living crisis. It’s fantastic the council are taking a lead in this instance because we feel as though the council has resource, buildings and all the things referred to in the paper that enable a real big impact to be generated in order to meet the needs of local people.”

A person adjusting the valve on their radiator, PA Photo.A person adjusting the valve on their radiator, PA Photo.
A person adjusting the valve on their radiator, PA Photo.

But he added: “One of the things that people are absolutely saying to us is that this can’t become a long-term sticking plaster, it’s fine for the 2023 winter that we look at developing these spaces and bringing people together – but 10 years ago food banks didn’t exist and here we are 10 years later in 2022 and food banks have become normal.”

Mr Brooke told the committee it is vital there is “meaningful activity” for people who use the service this winter and said the council needs to ensure a situation doesn’t develop where “people are bussed in to keep warm”. “That has no place in modern society, it doesn’t factor in people’s dignity and human rights,” he added.

Kate Campbell, SNP, said: “I just find it incredible that we’re sitting here in Scotland in 2022 and we have enough people who can’t afford to be in their own home that we have to develop a city-wide solution. In the same way that food banks have become normalised I’m terrified that we’re sitting here in a year or two years and this is just normal.”

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The action plan comes following a motion calling for ‘warm and welcoming spaces’ to be established was tabled by Labour’s Stephen Jenkinson and Euan Hyslop from the SNP group in August.

Speaking this week, Cllr Jenkinson said the council has an opportunity to show city residents that “we care at times of real financial worry”. He added it could also help people to become re-familiarised with their community centres and libraries following the pandemic. “I know many people are finding it very difficult to readjust and engage with their communities post-Covid,” he said.

Meanwhile the City Chamber’s SNP leader Adam McVey said his “back of a fag packet calculation” had showed around £100,000 could be required for the roll-out. However Andrew Kerr, the council’s chief executive, said warm spaces will be set-up and operate “within the existing resources”. He added: “We don’t believe currently that our need to provide this is going to require extra resources but of course further into the winter we’ll need to take stock.”

Laying bare the stark reality of the situation, Alan Beal, Liberal Democrats, said: “There’s going to be 50 to 60 per cent in fuel poverty – 50 to 60 per cent of households in Edinburgh is a lot so I think we as members need to be ready for that before winter actually hits.”

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The Greens’ Ben Parker added that accessibility should be a key consideration moving forward with the plans. “We need to make sure access details are provided as part of the communications plan so that people can be confident that if they do need to use these spaces and they do need that support it’s going to be accessible to them,” he said.

And the Conservatives’ group leader Iain Whyte said he was “duty bound” to remind councillors of actions taken by his party colleagues at Westminster to ease the cost of living crisis. He said: “The UK Government has capped energy prices for the winter with fixed maximum fee cost per unit and those may well affect some of the figures we’ve been hearing by pushing down the maximum that people will way. That is of course of top of the £400 that households will get to held with their energy prices.” Cllr Whyte added: “We’re already seeing gas prices coming down.”

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