Councillor Patrick Harley, leader of the council, and Labour’s Councillor Qadar Zada clashed at Monday’s full council meeting after hearing cleaners at the Saltwells Education Development Centre were not being given replacement PPE.
The claim came in a question by Councillor Jackie Cowell who asked whether it was true staff were expected to wear face masks until they "fell to pieces".
Saying the centre was operating as a lateral flow test site and also prepared food parcels, she said: “Management have been challenged and have apparently said they can’t afford to supply masks every day. It is totally unacceptable.”
Councillor Nicolas Barlow, cabinet member for health and adult social care, in response said: “This is the first I have heard of it and I certainly will get this investigated by the director public health and ensure a written report is provided to Councillor Cowell as a matter of urgency.”
But his reply provoked fierce criticism from Councillor Zada who said if true the council’s actions were dangerous, illegal and put staff and the public at risk.
Demanding immediate action, he said: “I can’t believe that I heard the cabinet member say he will send a written response.
“I would hope that tomorrow morning he would send an additional box of masks and indicate there are no restrictions on wearing masks and they can be changed as frequently as necessary to keep these workers safe.”
He added: “Save the written responses, send additional boxes of masks down there and send a global message out to every single worker that works for the council directly or indirectly that we will not put council workers at risk and they will be entitled to use as frequently (and) as much PPE as they feel.”
He added if the council didn’t provide the face masks, he would.
Councillor Harley, leader of the council, forcibly argued Dudley had an outstanding record in supplying PPE to staff and other agencies such as care homes.
“If there are issues with PPE in certain sectors then they need to be raised immediately with the relevant officers and directorates instead of cabinet members so they could be resolved quickly.”
Criticising Labour, he said: “I find it absolutely galling that we have members of the Labour group here tonight who have waited for a full council meeting to raise these complaints. Shame on you.
“If you have concerns do the decent thing and raise them with the relevant officer team and if you need to, cabinet member or if you need to raise it further then with me.
“But for goodness sake do the decent thing and don’t wait six or seven weeks to get your five minutes of fame.”
In reply, Councillor Cowell said she had only become aware of the claims at the weekend and raised it at the first opportunity.
In response to a question from the Local Democracy Reporting Service if staff PPE had been rationed, Councillor Barlow, cabinet member for health and adult social care, said: “Concerns raised at full council were investigated immediately and the council can confirm there are sufficient stocks of PPE at Saltwells EDC and appropriate policies in place. Staff have been trained in how to use PPE effectively.
“It is important that we all remain vigilant with usage of PPE during the pandemic and the council will continue to ensure appropriate usage of PPE at all sites.”