Councillors accused of taking credit for county’s low rates of coronavirus

(left to right) Andrew Proctor/Steffan Aquarone/Steve Morphew. Picture: Archant

(left to right) Andrew Proctor/Steffan Aquarone/Steve Morphew. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Councillors have been criticised for taking credit for Norfolk’s low rate of coronavirus infections and failing to learn the lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A report on the lessons learned and issues faced during the crisis so far is set to be presented to Norfolk County Council’s cabinet meeting on Monday, August 3.

But opposition groups blasted the Conservative leadership for “backslapping” and deflecting key questions about the emergency response to the disease - something council leader Andrew Proctor said he does not accept.

Labour group leader Steve Morphew said: “The is all about management and nothing about leadership of the county.

“Council officers did a great job but the political leadership gets no mention. We’ve seen little sign of their involvement, responsibility or accountability. Instead we’ve seen backslapping and taking credit for the work of others. We keep asking questions that are deflected rather than answered.”

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He added: “This may be an early debrief but it shows there was no learning as events unfolded, no recognition of the areas we were not properly prepared for and no assessment of the consequences.

“Norfolk deserves better. The families of those we lost, those who made sacrifices and the heroes of the pandemic really deserve better even at this stage.”

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Liberal Democrat group leader Steffan Aquarone said: “In the past week Conservative backslapping extended to claims it was their actions that led to Norfolk having one of the lowest rates of infection and deaths.

“The reality is the virus arrived later than elsewhere. Norfolk people were very responsible about the pandemic and what needed to be done right from the outset. Rather than congratulating themselves, they should thank the public for their restraint.”

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He said the Lib Dem group was calling for “an independent local enquiry”, citing the “hundreds of businesses that “fell between the gaps”, the high rates of the virus in West Norfolk, and levels of care home deaths in South Norfolk.

“No organisation should be left to mark its own card,” Mr Aquarone added. “Recent committee meetings suggest that there are some Conservatives who are of the same view.”

Mr Proctor said: “I’m pleased that Mr Morphew and Mr Aquarone have recognised the excellent work of the council and its partners.

“However, it’s a shame that they want to make cheap political points, at a time when my sole focus is supporting our county and minimising the impact of any second wave.

“I simply don’t recognise this backslapping both refer to and this report is about summarising the facts of what happened, the learning from the vast range of work done and how we as a whole council will work in the future.

“It isn’t just the council involved it’s also all our partners and it doesn’t stop here.

“Covid-19 is still with us and all indicators are that there is likely to be a second spike of infection in the months to come and that’s what we need to ensure we prepare for, which we are doing, and the council will be in a better place to respond.

“And part of that response is working to get Norfolk’s economy going again.”

He added: “Mr Aquarone’s comment that politicians are trying to claim credit for the low rate of infection shows he has clearly not read the report properly and failed to see this key comment ‘this responsible approach from Norfolk’s communities is indeed one of the reasons that we have thankfully seen lower infection rates than elsewhere.’

“In the cabinet meeting on May 11, I specifically said that the response to Covid-19 in Norfolk has been a huge community and partnership effort spearheaded by local government.

“And that is still the case. I also made a point of thanking everyone for what they have done.

“The Conservative political leadership of Norfolk County Council has worked hand in hand with all our officers, staff and partners to ensure that Norfolk’s response has been the best it could be. That will always be our approach – doing the best for Norfolk.”

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