Somerset can no longer afford to waste any more time and effort arguing about the merit, or inferiority, of unitary authorities. Too many people have died and more are becoming desperately ill with Covid. Local Government reform MUST be halted, and put on the back burner until safer days. Today I called upon Ministers to take notice and act. In a House of Commons speech during a special debate about Covid I also voiced new criticism of the way Somerset County Council has been using public funds intended to fight this pandemic. I have posted the full text here so that everyone may read it and reach their own conclusions:
“In my constituency two more people died yesterday. Thousands have caught the disease. It is getting worse, even in the remotest depths of the rural Somerset countryside.
We face a vicious enemy that attacks without warning and has the power to exploit the smallest human error.
Let your mask down or hug a grandchild and you could, I am sorry to say, die.
Nobody likes lockdowns. But obeying the rules is vital.
So is setting a positive public image.
It is a grave pity that Somerset County Council is still planning to run public surveys about local government reform, while the daily death toll across the county continues to rise.
The government gave Somerset an extra £32million to tackle Covid.
£10 million went straight into County Council reserves –they even had the bare faced cheek to shift almost half a million pounds into a savings fund for its own car parks.
What a cheap trick. Words fail me at their lack of decency and care for people’s real needs.
We all know that Ministers have long-term plans to reform local government, but this is no time for Somerset County Council to be cooking the books to make themselves look like financial wizards.
And as for the County Council wasting time on surveys – which they are planning to do right through January and February – how dare they.
They will be pestering people who are frightened by a disease which is still spreading fast.
All this puts Somerset’s District councils in a moral quandary.
I know they would much rather local government reform was delayed until Covid becomes ancient history and people feel safe once again.
But if the County Council insists on wasting time and money running consultations – are the districts seriously expected to pretend that nothing is happening?
The Government needs to take the lead and order a complete freeze of the whole local government reform programme.
So far, worldwide, almost 2 million human being have been killed by Covid.
In this country the death toll tonight is now more than 82,000.
One day our descendants may ask, “What did YOU do in the pandemic?”
I really do not believe that any self-respecting Minister will want to admit responsibility for saying – “I pushed ahead with local government reform”
It is irrelevant and an unnecessary sideshow while so many of our residents are desperately trying to protect their own lives and those of their loved ones.
We all hope and pray for a swift rollout of the new vaccines.
Some teething problems are inevitable, and in Somerset there are elements that have been delayed.
So, I have a positive and constructive suggestion to make to the Minister:
Why not report vaccinations in the same way as infection figures: area-by-area, week-by-week, day-by-day if possible.
We need to know how many jabs have been done in each specific place, West Somerset, Sedgemoor, Mendip and South Somerset.
It is only through transparent figures that people can understand the complexity of the process and councillors and MPs can get to grips with any problems that may occur.
I fear some Public Heath Directors know more a lot more than they are currently allowed to say. This can and should be cleared up fast.
We are all in this together. Let us be open honest and give everyone the facts. Please.”