Somerset MP takes aim

Ian Liddell Grainger spoke in (or rather to, via videolink) the House of Commons yesterday. He is not happy. At issue is what he perceives as a difference in the quality of management information provided on the virus between Devon County Council and Somerset County Council.

Unfortunately the brevity of his intervention did not allow for more detail.

Hansard records his words as follows: My right hon. Friend (The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg) and I have something else in common—Somerset county—and we are both proud of the area we live in. Big counties have received the lion’s share of the very good grants—and I am grateful to the Government—that have been given out to cope with this awful pandemic. However, I must question how some of them are using the money. I have received next to nothing from the county of Somerset, while Devon next door is keeping me enormously informed about what it is doing and how it is spending its money. When the time is right, will my right hon. Friend allow us to have a debate about the way in which counties and districts have handled this crisis in what has been a difficult time for us all?

Needless to say this is not the view from County Hall, Taunton. Their spokesperson told us “The MP has received daily information about how Somerset County Council is dealing with the crisis. He receives a weekly summary of major issues and achievements including significant spending plans. He is invited to attend regular MP briefings with the CEO…he is the only MP in Somerset not to have taken up the invitation. He has not asked a single question of SCC about spending plans – unlike councillors across the various parties who have asked and received full briefings on issues such as spending.

SCC also provided an update of their spending to date noting “SCC has been totally transparent on spending during Coronavirus

  • Extra government income received or due = £25.6m
  • Extra spending SCC incurring or predicted to incur = £47m

Major areas of spend:

  • Paying a 10% increase to all care home providers to help them stay financial viable through crisis – £1m/month (min three months)
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – Gov only provides 30%, SCC funds the remaining 70% – cost £10m
  • Setting up and running two new care homes in Yeovil and Wellington – £1m each
  • Supporting nurseries etc which have lost most customers to enable them to financially survive – £2.1m
  • Running social care services seven days a week – £1m
  • Delays to new recycling launch – £3.7m
  • Supporting our supply chain on major building projects – £5m
  • Supporting costs for homelessness £0.8m
  • Extra costs to fostering agencies £0.7m

Nevertheless Ian Liddell Grainger remains unimpressed. He told The Leveller® “I read SCC’s comments with incredulity. For the council to suggest that they have been totally “transparent on spending during coronavirus” is risible. The facts are these:
i) I have never received a daily briefing from anyone at SCC.
ii) The “weekly summary” is a pathetic document with scant detail
iii) I have definitely not been invited to attend any briefings with the CEO.
(Mr Flaherty once offered to brief me by phone and then failed to make the call!)
The SCC comments contain several sums of “additional spending” that require far more analysis – “£5m supporting our supply chain on major building projects” is a suspiciously vague description. The “new recycling launch” will be delayed. But does this delay really cost £3.7million? As for Personal Protection Equipment (PPE), a vital subject rightly prominent in every council balance sheet, SCC estimates the cost at £10m. This is an unsubstantiated figure and equally puzzling. MPs have already been told by Mr Flaherty that a consignment from China, ordered by SCC, was seized as soon as it landed by the “NHS Central sourcing team”. Is that part of the £10m cost? What about another SCC consignment from China – 10,000 masks – which never got here at all? Has it already been paid for? I can report that when Sedgemoor District council requested SCC to help supply PPE to those distributing food parcels to the needy, the district was denied any help. Ironically SCC will supply PPE to Bridgwater Town Council which is producing a leaflet. But the people distributing the leaflet – the Royal Mail – will not be getting any SCC equipment!

To the best of my knowledge there has been no information from SCC about the number of patients in Somerset care homes diagnosed with Covid19, let alone the number of deaths. I could go on. I may yet be forced to do so. SCC will receive a special grant of £25,604,480 to help it cope with Covid. My two district councils, Sedgemoor and Somerset West & Taunton are being given less than £3million between them. Yet they are both doing a fantastic job. I think we all deserve better from the County Council.

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