Barnsley Council: Labour cabinet member 'would hate for' Liberal Democrat opposition to 'take credit' after heating bills slashed

A Barnsley cabinet member said she ‘would hate for the Lib Dems to take credit’ for lowering the price of community heating schemes.

Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 9:09 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th December 2021, 11:25 am

In Barnsley, 1,209 homes are heated by community energy schemes, which were introduced by the government as a way to keep heating bills low.

Instead of having a boiler in each home, community heating networks send heat and hot water to a number of properties through underground pipes from one communal heat source.

Fuel Poverty Action say customers of these schemes ‘cannot switch [suppliers], nor is there any price cap or, as yet, any regulation’.

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Councillor Sharon Howard said that the issue had been raised for "quite a lot of years"

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In Barnsley, coal boilers in council properties were replaced with gas, biomass and ground source heat pumps in 2013.

Councillor Peter Fielding told a meeting of full council in February that residents from the Pollyfox Estate in Dodworth had contacted him, concerned that their bills from the community heating scheme were adding up to around £800, with some tenants paying more than £1000 a year to heat their home, when the average cost of heating a similar home was around £500.

Former councillor Phil Birkinshaw, who was the Independent group leader of Dodworth said that the issue had been raised for the last ten years.

Councillor Sharon Howard said that the issue had been raised for "quite a lot of years"

Barnsley Council’s cabinet agreed to lower the cost of community energy to 6.4p per KW-H, from the current price of 9.5p, at their last meeting on December 1.

The council say the average saving to a tenants’ bill would be £134 per year which will be backdated to September 1.

However, Councillor Sharon Howard, Labour member for Darton West, told the meeting that she ‘would hate’ for the Liberal Democrats to ‘take credit’ for the price being lowered.

Councillor Sharon Howard said that the issue had been raised for “quite a lot of years”, adding that “just recently the Liberal Democrats have come on board with this.”

“I would hate for the Liberal Democrats to be able to take credit for this because, as you can see, it is part of a package of measures that this council are doing to help people.

“It hasn’t come about because they’ve suddenly put a petition in. This has gone on a number of years.

“But I think someone will be stealing your thunder Tim if they get an opportunity.”

Sir Steve Houghton CBE, leader of the council added: “Members from all parties have raised this issue. More Labour members have raised it than opposition members.

“It should not be about individuals taking credit because a whole range of people raised it. We changed that because it has been raised borough wide.”

Councillor Hannah Kitching, leader of the Barnsley Lib Dems questioned why the Labour administration had not lowered the price until now, adding: “It’s not about taking the credit, it’s about doing the right thing.

“Councillors from all parties have been raising this as a significant issue for their residents for years. Why hasn’t the administration done something about this before now?

“They’ve had a patently unfair scheme where residents are locked in to these district heating schemes, and unable to find a better energy rate, and Labour councillors have left their residents locked into that, despite calls from their own councillors to resolve it.

“It’s clear that Labour has been dragging their heels on it.”

Sir Steve Houghton said: “We know that pressures of the cost of living have increased recently and a number of elected members called for a formal review of district heating schemes last winter, which we committed to doing earlier this year. This report and reduction in prices is the result of that review.

“The district heating schemes will have been installed when the properties were initially built. In 2013 we replaced coal boilers with gas, biomass and ground source heat pump systems, and in 2015 we reviewed the tariff rate that residents paid and reduced it. We are now reviewing and reducing the rate again.”