The Leader of Somerset County Council didn’t approve of my comments in the House of Commons. I suggested, on several occasions, that Somerset has not used money received from the Government for Covid relief in the way intended. It is now admitted that around £10million was originally put away in a reserve fund to be used on whatever they wanted. The council ‘s finance officers then decided to place any future money in a dedicated reserve fund. A small result. But not the end of the story.
Unfortunately the truth about where and how these generous grants have been spent is still far too vague.
The fog of uncertainty can give rise to suspicion, which is why I will not let this matter drop.
The Leader of the County Council wrote direct to the Prime Minister trying to put the record straight. Today Boris Johnson’s answer arrived and the County Council has been gleefully publicising it. Mr Johnson exonerated Somerset with great care – his telling phrase is contained in the paragraph I have highlighted in red.
...”based on information currently held by government the Ministry (MHCLG) does not have any reason for concern regarding the use of Covid -19 funding by Somerset County Council.”
The information held by government on the use of Covid grants by local authorities was never meant to be a thorough check list. It simply does a regular tally of the totals submitted by 339 councils. It is only meant to provide a rough guide to the overall cost of coping with Covid.
It is raw data – NOT detail.
The lists are submitted on a voluntary basis and contain no specific sums of money or invoices.
All you can access are round numbers – and that is because the Ministry did not “ring fence” Covid -19 Relief grants.
You can search in vain for the reason why Somerset County Council paid tens of thousands of pounds to a one-man business trading in Chinese PPE from his house in downtown Taunton. Or what they did with huge numbers of expensive carrier bags costing a small fortune which appear to have been purchased in the name of Covid relief.
I have many more specific questions about precisely how grants were used.
But the answers will never be published in the lists Somerset has submitted to Government https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/local-authority-covid-19-financial-impact-monitoring-information