A campaign group is calling for Falkirk Council’s leader to resign, saying she has shown ‘no empathy’ with the plight of villagers affected by fuel poverty.
Angry residents in upper Braes villages now want councillor Cecil Meiklejohn to come and spend the night in one of their cold houses to “see how we are forced to live”.
The row erupted on Twitter on Thursday night after Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages’ campaign was featured on STV News, with residents speaking about the sky-high bills and freezing cold conditions they are now enduring.
The campaign, led by Slamannan resident Claire Mackie, has been demanding more support from Falkirk Council and ScottishPower for families who are paying massive electricity bills caused by an inefficient heating system.
The campaigners were angry that Falkirk Council did not put forward a spokesperson to speak on the news programme.
But they were even more furious when cllr Meiklejohn took to Twitter to defend the council’s position and branded her “a liar” for saying residents of the Braes had wanted gas to be installed.
Ms Mackie said: “I was just astonished at the statements she was making on Twitter – at the end of the day, accountability lies with Falkirk Council because they were the ones that installed the system.
“Regardless of ScottishPower’s part – which is significant – the ultimate responsibility lies with Falkirk Council.”
Ms Mackie also criticised the fact that the council leader blocked Falkirk’s Forgotten Villages on Twitter, meaning she can no longer see any messages or replies they send.
“For someone in her position, that is just abhorrent,” said Ms Mackie.
Cllr Meiklejohn said she has had to stop using Twitter because of the abuse she was receiving during the exchanges.
But Ms Mackie said there had been no abuse of any kind.
She said: “People were questioning her comments – there was nobody swearing at her or using vulgar words.
“The fact is that she wouldn’t come out on TV for an interview, but she chose to go on Twitter and comment.”
Cllr Meiklejohn believes that the council has done as much as it can by agreeing to spend £8m to install gas to several villages and new renewable heating systems to others.
She says she has also called on the UK Government to do more to tackle rising energy costs and has asked council officers to contact ScottishPower to ask them what more they can do.
It is understood that the renewable heating systems will start to be installed in January, while the work to install gas has been put out to tender and a contract should be awarded in either January or February.
“As soon as we know firm dates and times we will communicate that,” she said.
However, she does not believe that her resigning as council leader would make a difference.
She said: “I don’t believe that there’s anything that could change the position we’re in – I don’t think anyone would be able to find the money in the council’s budget to fully subsidise the heating costs.
“Falkirk Council have stepped up to committing millions of pounds to changing the heating systems but other partners who are responsible for setting the tariffs have not come to the table with any solutions.”
By local democracy reporter Kirsty Paterson