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Council will open up buildings this winter to provide shelter for people who can't afford to heat homes

West Lothian Council buildings will open to provide shelter from the cold for the most vulnerable this winter, as it declared a Cost of Living emergency.

Labour and SNP councillors have agreed to call for the Holyrood and Westminster governments to uplift emergency funds and restore welfare benefits to help people cope.

And the council is to hold a Cost of Living Crisis conference next week during Challenge Poverty Week.

SNP Group leader Janet Campbell, said. “We are right now in the midst of the most severe crisis of our lifetimes. Millions are being pushed into poverty by the action of the Westminster Tory Government. The viability of businesses is being threatened.”

She described a “ toxic cocktail” of rising prices coming on the back of growing referrals to food banks, and added that government policies: “pose a danger not just to livelihoods but to people’s lives.”

Labour councillor and depute council leader, Kirsteen Sullivan said: “The motion sets out the work that’s underway by community planning partners to come together to work collectively to deliver vital support for local people. There’s already a plan mapped out for community facilities to provide warm shelter.”

She added that the plan is to roll out community and advice sessions across the county so that people have as much access to information they need “before they reach crisis point.”

The council’s Property Services team have identified 49 of 279 buildings which can be used as warm shelters including: partnership centres, community centres / village halls, sports centres and swimming pools,which are West Lothian Leisure operated, but WLC properties.

Councillor Sullivan said: “Although we are talking about something generating such fear and concern, local people are willing to work together.”

“We hear about some of the support being offered by the Government.It ignores the fact that energy prices will have doubled over last year. The support offered doesn’t give the certainty that people need at this time.”

An amendment made and the meeting of the full council on Tuesday from the council’s four strong Tory group to call on Holyrood to introduce tax cuts was heavily defeated in heated debate across the council chamber in Livingston this week.

Tory Group Leader Damian Doran-Timson had called on the council to ask the Scottish Government to replicate Westminster with the introduction of tax cuts. He told the meeting the global crisis was caused by the world emerging from the pandemic crisis and the war in Ukraine.

He suggested his amendment could be composited with that of Labour and the SNP. The Tory group made “good points without playing political games,” he added.

He added: “Without doubt there is a crisis across the world at the moment. What Councillor Sullivan and Councillor Campbell have said is absolutely accurate. More needs to be done, especially for those who need it. The UK government has provided £37m while the SNP has barely lifted a finger.”

Councillor Doran-Timson’s amendment added: “The proposed NI increase has been cut and stamp duty is being cut permanently which will deliver £170 million to the SNP Government.

“With cuts to basic rate of income tax and the cuts to corporation tax, every business and employee will benefit.

“It is imperative that the cuts and packages of support are introduced by the SNP Government. If the SNP on West Lothian. If the council are serious about helping those that need support, they will agree to introduce these measures.”

Lib Dem Sally Pattle called for an end to mud- slinging, adding: “We need to work together to enable all residents in West Lothian to get help.”

Councillor Andrew Miller (SNP) said: “I’m really heartened to see that most in council recognise the crisis we are in, but I will quite happily distance myself from the Conservatives. That’s a political divide I’m happy to stand by.”

A dedicated web page has been developed by the council’s Advice Shop team. These self-help guides are being developed with a specific focus on financial payments and energy.

The Cost of Living conference is on Tuesday, 4 October 2022. It will facilitate discussions around key issues such as food insecurity and the rising fuel costs. The keynote speaker is John McKendrick, Professor of Social Justice and co-Director of the Scottish Poverty and Inequality Research Unit.

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