Call for inquiry into Norfolk’s response to coronavirus pandemic

Steffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway

Steffan Aquarone, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: Alex Broadway

Alex Broadway © 2019 - - 07905628187

An independent inquiry is needed to probe the response to the coronavirus pandemic in Norfolk, councillors have demanded.

Steve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSteve Morphew, leader of the Labour group at Norfolk County Council. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The call for the investigation, led by somebody non-political, has been made by the Liberal Democrat group at Norfolk County Council.

The Norfolk Resilience Forum, which has led the response to the pandemic, includes county and district council staff, NHS organisation, hospitals and the police.

They have worked to support vulnerable people and the wider community during the pandemic – including getting protective personal equipment for the council and care homes.

But Lib Dem group leader Steffan Aquarone said lessons could be learned about that response, particularly given further coronavirus waves are expected.

Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Andrew Proctor, leader of Norfolk County Council. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

He said: “This inquiry is not the staff associated with the big public inquiries set up in the wake of disasters.

“It is intended to be constructive, and not to seek blame, but to be anchored in the future, centred on the people of Norfolk, not the needs or challenges being faced by any specific public sector body or other organisations, and specifically looking at Norfolk’s response to the virus, which we know is evolving at a different rate to the rest of the country.”

Mr Aquarone said the inquiry could take days, not months, and that government funding or contributions from organisations involved could pay for it.

He said: “It should of course be led by someone unimpeachably non-political, and independent of any of the bodies in Norfolk that have worked together to respond to the crisis so far.

This call is also not party political – the Liberal Democrats run one of the councils involved in shaping Norfolk’s response, North Norfolk District Council, and I am making this call today with the support of the county group, including my colleague Sarah Butikofer, the leader of North Norfolk District Council.”

But Andrew Proctor, Conservative leader of Norfolk County Council, said: “I have already said the work done in Norfolk has been a magnificent, collective community and partnership effort by staff and volunteers alike.

“In my view, the Norfolk Resilience Forum has done a tremendous job in Norfolk’s multi-agency response to the coronavirus pandemic, which I am sure the people of Norfolk recognise.

“It is likely the government will see an inquiry is undertaken, to which we can all contribute in due course.”

The opposition Labour group at County Hall has lodged more than 30 questions for Monday’s meeting of the county council cabinet about the handling of the crisis.

That meeting will discuss a report into how the council helped to deal with the impact of the pandemic on the county.

Labour questions include ones about the level of emergency planning, the school meal vouchers scheme, the role of the Norfolk Resilience Forum, support for charities and how spending decisions were made.

Labour group leader Steve Morphew said: “The cabinet report into the response to the pandemic makes no reference to a series of shortcomings and problems. It’s as if everything went perfectly and it most certainly didn’t.

“We have submitted a host of questions intended to highlight many of those areas in the spirit of constructive criticism, so that positive action can be taken for the future.

“There has been some amazing work done by so many people and we mustn’t let our heroes down by glossing over issues that could save lives and reduce the impact of a second spike.”

MORE: How Norfolk prepared for a coronavirus-like pandemic last year

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