Southend Council accused of avoiding coronavirus scrutiny

Southend’s Council’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic is set to be scrutinised after opposition councillors accused the administration of trying to avoid criticism.

The special Policy and Resources Scrutiny Committee will be held on Thursday after Tory leader Councillor Tony Cox accused the administration of “hiding” from scrutiny.

But the deputy leader of the council called Mr Cox’s accusations “laughable” and said the administration is happy to discuss its record on handling of the crisis.

Mr Cox said: “It is important that the concerns of the public and of their democratically elected representatives are heard now more than ever.

“We must ensure that the decisions made were the correct ones, that protect both the public and the town during this crisis.

“So far the Labour led coalition has been hiding from scrutiny and each time a councillor or member of the public criticises or raises concerns about the council’s approach to Covid-19 they are simply dismissed by the administration as being ‘daft’ or ‘playing politics’ this is wrong, and it is time that democracy is restored in Southend.

“Whether the Labour led coalition likes it or not.”

He added that after 12 years on the council it was the first time an administration had been “forced” to come to a meeting to be scrutinised.

His comments sparked a strong rebuke from the council’s Independent deputy leader, Councillor Ron Woodley.

“He was the one stopping us from having scrutiny meetings,” said Mr Woodley.

“When we were arranging how to have virtual meetings, we had to go through the government procedures and it was councillor Cox who was making demands that prevented us from holding meetings.”

He went on to accuse Mr Cox of being “destructive” and said he had painted a “totally false scenario” of what has taken place behind closed doors.

Speaking of the council’s work on Covid-19, the deputy leader added he is “absolutely” willing to be scrutinised.

A report published ahead of the meeting calls Covid-19 the “biggest challenge to human health and wellbeing since the Second World War” which has led to “an unprecedented mobilisation of council, partner and community resources to meet the crisis”.

It goes on to say that throughout the pandemic the government has “relied heavily” on council leadership and it has come after years of austerity that “left many services under-resourced to deal effectively with a pandemic”.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter