Lancashire's libraries to open up as "warm hubs" for locals this winter - and the search is on for other buildings that could do the same
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Lancashire County Council has identified 64 of its facilities which can offer the service, as part of a pledge made by the authority to help people in the face of rising energy prices.
However, further buildings are also being sought from other organisations that might be able to open their doors, after a cabinet meeting - which took place shortly before the announcement of the Queen’s death - heard that there was little else within the county council’s estate that was suitable for the scheme.
Members were being updated on plans for the creation of a network of so-called “warm hubs”, which were agreed back in July as fears began to grow about the ability of some households to cope with spiralling energy bills.
A task group of county councillors set up to oversee the work recently met for the first time and aims to have a full plan to put to cabinet in October.
As part of the outline proposals, County Hall is also planning to extend other support available in its libraries, which could benefit those taking advantage of the warm hubs service, including digital, health and employment sessions.
Meanwhile, county council officers are currently working with district authorities to collate information about voluntary, faith and community groups in their areas which could get involved with the main project.
Deputy county council leader Alan Vicnent told the cabinet meeting that the top-tier authority would not be able to deliver the scheme on its own.
“The co-operation of the districts and the parishes [lower tier councils] is vital to the success of this…and I’m confident that they will [help],” said County Cllr Vincent, who explained that some boroughs were considering using their own leisure facilities or working with charities in their area to expand the warm harb network.
“To a large extent we’re facilitators rather than actual doers in this. Other people have the boots on the ground - we’ll just have to pick up the tab.”
Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali stressed the need to work with parish authorities - which, the meeting heard, have now been approached by County Hall - to identify areas that may have “a church hall or a small community centre which might be better placed to deliver the aspiration of a warm and welcome hub”.
He also said that various factors needed to be taken into account when assessing the suitability of libraries for the scheme - including whether toilet facilities were available and whether hot drinks would be on offer. The cabinet was told that the 64 identified libraries all have disabled access.
County council leader Phillippa Williamson said that libraries would be the "focal point" for the initiative - and moved to to reassure residents that the authority was “doing everything that we can to help us all get through this difficult time”.
She added that County Hall was well versed in working with other councils and the voluntary sector in order to support those in need.
Speaking about the government’s announcement of a £2,500 “energy price guarantee” for domestic properties for the next two years - and the promise of support for businesses for at least six months - County Cllr Williamson welcomed what she described as the “decisive and swift” action which had been taken by the new Prime Minister, Liz Truss.
However, after the meeting, County Cllr Ali said the energy price cap as it stood just six months ago would still nearly have doubled come October. He also warned of the cost to the country of how the new price guarantee will be financed.
“The government are not prepared to put a windfall tax on the huge profits of the [energy] companies [to pay for it]. That’s worrying, because they’re maxing out the credit card - as Rishi Sunak said during the leadership debates.
“So it’s going to get paid for by the rest of us for years to come. The NHS is on its knees, we're in deep trouble - and they don't want to put a windfall tax on [the likes of] BP and Shell.”