HOMELESSNESS is at the centre of a political row after a senior Labour councillor blamed the Government for the situation in the borough.

The number of rough sleepers in Warrington more than quadrupled in two years – it totalled five in 2016, four in 2017 and 21 in 2018.

Town Hall chiefs discussed homelessness during Monday’s cabinet meeting.

Cllr Maureen McLaughlin (LAB – Latchford West), portfolio holder for housing, public health and wellbeing, highlighted that the Labour-run authority has made investments to provide accommodation to those in need, including through the New Start project.

She said: “But that is set against a programme of austerity that is making life very difficult for some of the people in the town.

“The blame for the situation of homelessness has to rest with Government and their policies, which have caused this problem.”

Cllr Tony Higgins (LAB – Fairfield and Howley), cabinet member for leisure and community, hailed the council for ‘continuing to deliver’ services for the most vulnerable despite austerity and ‘huge’ budget cuts.

But the comments have sparked a response from the town’s Conservatives.

The party’s only borough councillor Cllr Kath Buckley (CON – Lymm South), who is also chair of Warrington’s Citizens Advice Bureau, says the reasons behind the increase in homelessness are ‘many and complex’.

She added: “Service providers in Warrington deliver a valuable service but there has been an increase in the number of people needing help, but not all of those people are actually from Warrington.

“There are many issues which contribute to homelessness such as drugs misuse and family breakdown, so to simply place the blame at the door of central Government doesn’t really help to solve the problem.”

Warrington’s multi-agency rough sleeper action group meets every two weeks to review individuals known to be rough sleeping.

And the council’s housing plus service delivers statutory homelessness services for all homeless people, including those who are rough sleeping.

Accommodation for those in need includes provision through the New Start scheme, James Lee House, Verve Place, Room at the Inn and the Safe Seats project.