Lib Dem councillors call for Hertfordshire County Council to push for judicial-led inquiry into pandemic

Hertfordshire County Council outlined its Covid Recovery Strategy at the full council meeting

Wednesday, 20th October 2021, 4:28 pm

Calls for Hertfordshire County Council to push for a judicial-led inquiry into the government’s failings during the Covid-19 pandemic have been defeated.

At a meeting of the full council on Tuesday, the Conservative-led council outlined its Covid Recovery Strategy – backed with £9.7m of funding.

That strategy brings together a wide-ranging package of projects designed to support health and wellbeing, the environment and economic recovery over the next two years.

Hertfordshire County Council outlined its Covid Recovery Strategy at the full council meeting

And it was approved after gaining cross-party backing at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday (October 19).

But as well as approving the strategy at the meeting, Liberal Democrats also highlighted the government’s ‘failure to prepare for the pandemic’, its ‘adoption of a wait and see policy’ and its ‘delay’ in calling for an early lockdown in March 2020.

They pointed to the discharge of untested patients into care homes and the ‘waste’ of £37billion on a ‘flawed’ test and trace system.

And in an amendment – put forward by Cllr Ron Tindall – they called on the council to urge the Prime Minister to initiate ‘an urgent judicial-led inquiry’.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Steve Jarvis said that there was much to welcome in the Covid Recovery Strategy.

And he acknowledged the work that has been done by the county council, highlighting in particular the work of public heath.

But he said the amendment was there because that work had been made “immeasurably more difficult by the incompetence and dither” of central government.

“So let’s recognise the tremendous work that has been done, the great plans that are set out,” he said.

“But let’s be clear that this work is being made more difficult because of the incompetence of the government.”

And – quoting Winston Churchill to highlight the need for an inquiry – Lib Dem Cllr Chris White, leader of St Albans District Council, said that those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

He pointed to increasing number of Covid cases, the ‘failing’ vaccination programme and the 7000 people in hospital.

And he said the inquiry was needed to ensure the same mistakes were not made again should the pandemic escalate or another came along.

Meanwhile Labour Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, also backed the calls for an inquiry.

She said that local councils had acted ‘magnificently’, but she said that this had often been in spite of government, rather than because of it.

“Without an independent judicial-led inquiry how do we learn the lessons for the future?” she said.

“Where and when do we build on the foundations of localism that have proved so strong in this terrible time?

“Let’s remember, thousands of our residents lost their lives, thousands more have long-term and terrible health consequences, whether mental or physical health consequences.

“What is in this for the people of Hertfordshire? Holding the failing of their government to account is part of our job.”

But the support for the inquiry was not backed by the Conservative majority of the council.

Despite acknowledging there had been some errors, Cllr Richard Thake said the Liberal Democrat amendment was ‘purely political’.

And he said it had nothing to do with what was being proposed in the council’s Covid Recovery Strategy.

Meanwhile, deputy leader of the council Cllr Morris Bright, leader of Hertsmere Borough Council, said he was “disappointed” by the amendment – which he was was just a ‘dig’ at the government.

Presenting the Covid Recovery Strategy at the meeting, leader of the county council Cllr Richard Roberts said the pandemic had taken a toll on all Hertfordshire residents – ‘testing us in every way imaginable’.

But pointing to volunteers and council staff who stepped up, he said the response ‘could not have been more commendable’.

He said the next challenge was to ‘bottle’ that Hertfordshire community spirit and to take it forward to ‘supercharge’ the recovery.

And based around the themes of ‘respond’, ‘restore’ and ‘rethink’, he said the strategy was ‘one of the most exciting projects that we have ongoing at the moment’.

The strategy includes a series of projects designed to support health and wellbeing, the environment and economic recovery over the next two years.

It includes £3.263m for adult care services projects, £1.73m for children’s services projects, £1.2m for schools and £2.2m for a new ‘Building Life Chances’ initiative.

Executive member for resources and performance Cllr Bob Deering catalogued the work of the county council in the pandemic.

That included, he said, ensuring 7000 employees could work from home, delivering 132,000 food and essentials parcels, providing nine million items of PPE, establishing 70 sites for testing and vaccination and distributing 14,000 tests to residents.

The council, he said, had already spent £144m on its response to covid – ad the £9.7m associated with the recovery strategy will take this work even further.

And speaking in favour of the strategy, he said: “This is a terrific package of measures which Hertfordshire County Council has originated and derived and developed and it is entirely to assist and help the residents of this county.”