Neighbouring leader slams Sandwell Council's 'appalling' handling of coronavirus pandemic

Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley has slammed Sandwell Council for its "appalling" handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Coronavirus cases in Sandwell have risen in recent weeks
Coronavirus cases in Sandwell have risen in recent weeks

He said the Labour-run authority's move to launch its own test and trace system was a "publicity stunt", and said people in Sandwell had suffered because public health officials had politicised the crisis.

It comes after Sandwell's director of public health Lisa McNally said the borough had launched its own test and trace system because the Government's version had failed to reach enough people.

Latest rates of infection in the region:

The rate of new cases per 100,000 people for the seven days to July 28.

Thee figures show the rate of new cases per 100,000 people for the seven days to July 28 with the number of new cases in that period in brackets, followed by equivalent figure for the previous seven days to July 21.

Data for the most recent three days has been excluded as it is incomplete and likely to be revised.

  • Sandwell 26.0 (85) v 27.2 (89)

  • Wolverhampton 13.0 (34) v 10.7 (28)

  • Birmingham 13.0 (148) v 13.2 (151)

  • Cannock Chase 8.0 (8) v 7.0 (7)

  • Lichfield 6.7 (7) v 5.8 (6)

  • Walsall 6.7 (19) v 9.9 (28)

  • Dudley 5.3 (17) v 1.9 (6)

  • South Staffordshire 5.4 (6) v 3.6 (4)

  • Stafford 6.6 (9) v 0.0 (0)

Mr Harley said Sandwell Council's struggles to contain the virus were linked to a refusal to allow public health officials to meet with Conservative MPs – who he said could have applied pressure on Ministers on the council's behalf.

Sandwell has one of the highest infection rates in the country at 26 per 100,000 people, with 85 new cases in the seven days to July 28. It has been added to a government 'watch list' and is at risk of a local lockdown.

Dudley has seen 17 new cases over the same period and has a rate of 5.3 per 100,000 people.

Dudley Council leader Patrick Harley has had a dig at Sandwell Council's handling of the pandemic

Mr Harley, a Conservative, said: "If Sandwell's officers stopped playing at being politicians and concentrated on their day jobs, I'm sure their results would have been better and they wouldn't be failing their people and complaining about track and trace.

"Officers should be neutral and not make political statements. In Dudley we have got a great team and don't have to resort to publicity stunts.

"The fact is that throughout the pandemic, I think Sandwell can look on with quite a lot of envy at how their nearest neighbour Dudley has handled matters.

"Quite frankly, Sandwell has had an appalling pandemic, and you have to look at the people in charge, from the leader down."

More Covid-19 coverage:

Mr Harley said the fact that there had been no meetings between public health officials and local MPs in Sandwell was a "major failing".

"They don't meet with MPs or brief MPs," he said. "We've had briefings with all five MPs that cover Dudley, including [Wolverhampton South East Labour MP] Pat McFadden.

"It has been extremely useful in terms of getting them to apply pressure on government.

"For example, it helped us to get PPE at crucial times in the early days.

"We were able to apply pressure and our concerns were taken to government and acted on, and as a result we never ran out of PPE."

West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards wants a meeting with public health chiefs in Sandwell

West Bromwich East MP Nicola Richards says her repeated requests for meetings with public health officials in Sandwell since the start of the pandemic had fallen on deaf ears.

She described the situation as "extremely frustrating" and added: "You have got an MP here who is really concerned and wants to know what is happening in the borough and wants to know what can be done to help. Instead it looks like they have decided to play politics.

"It is very important that we get the messaging right on this because there is a fine line between warning people of genuine concerns and scaremongering.

"Saying that the Government's track and trace system is not working and that we have to set up our own, is I'm afraid, scaremongering.

"As it turns out Sandwell is actually dovetailing with the Government's system.

"The lack of leadership at the council has created a vacuum, and as a consequence the public health message has become confused.

"The fact is that if everyone follows the guidance, and every workplace that sees a spike in cases closes down, there is no reason why the number of cases shouldn't plateau and reduce."

Ms McNally told the Express & Star that the borough's contract tracing system gathered crucial extra information that the Government's doesn't – including workplace data.

She said the system had the backing of Public Health England, and involves between 40 and 50 council officers working on cases in a bid to reach more residents, particularly those who did not speak English.

Lisa McNally, director of public health in Sandwell, is aiming to stop a local lockdown

Ms McNally said: "In this country 45,000 people have died from this virus, and the Black Country was hit really hard.

"We must never forget that this is the same virus that has killed people. If it infects people who are elderly or vulnerable they can find themselves on a ventilator.

"Many people can die. I don't really see how it is possible to scaremonger when you are talking about a situation like that."

Sandwell Council has been contacted for a comment.

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