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Thursday, January 26, 2023
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Council told to act over warm hub grants form

Council leaders have been blasted for taking two months to put together a “simple” form that would enable volunteers to bid for cash to help Biddulph residents struggling with the cost of living.

It has been more than 11 weeks since an emergency meeting of Staffordshire Moorlands District Council agreed that a working group would be set up to look at developing a form that would benefit voluntary organisations. But according to critics of the Conservative administration, it is still not available online.

The form would mean that organisations such as churches, parish councils and libraries could open their spaces as warm hubs with the opportunity to later apply for grants to subsidise the costs.

As heating bills keep increasing, the need for free warm spaces is expected to continue to rise.

Labour Coun Lyn Swindlehurst, who is jointly heading up the working group, first met with her team at the end of November. By Friday, 9th December, a draft form had been sent to Conservative Coun Ross Ward, the Cabinet member responsible for communities, but in the words of Coun Swindlehurst, she has “heard nothing since”.

Labour Coun Nigel Yates, who represents Biddulph West, is among those calling for more action. He said: “We are pushing the district council to get its act together over administering help to voluntary organisations that are providing warm spaces during the cost of living crisis.
We’re very disappointed with the lack of response from the Cabinet members so far.

“They haven’t even produced a form for these organisations to fill in. We’re still bleeding waiting for the design to be approved by the Cabinet before it can be distributed.

“As a voluntary organisation, you can’t just phone up the council and say ‘could you give us £1,000?’ You have to do it through the correct guidelines with a form to fill in, so you can ensure it’s all transparent. That’s why we need the district council to step up.
“We’re haranguing them at every moment, but we just get told it’s in the works and things have been delayed over Christmas.”

Meanwhile, the lower-tier Biddulph Town Council has been busy organising activities and supporting other groups to do the same as part of the Biddulph Works Together project. It has so far ensured that anyone struggling with their bills can get a free meal and a place to stay warm at a different venue every day of the week in the town.

Coun Yates continued: “The community groups in Biddulph have been well supported by the town council, but the district council is a megalith compared to the town council and is sitting on a pot of £600,000. That £600,000 was a post-covid recovery fund.”

Coun Swindlehurst said: “I think that the cost of living crisis should be a priority above all other things, just like covid was. Organisations are really struggling and it’s our job to help them out. That’s certainly the way I see my job.”

The Chronicle asked Coun Ward to comment.

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