Exclusive: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace in row with Tory-run council as it refuses to reopen schools
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (Credit: PA)
Ben Wallace has become embroiled in a row with his local Conservative-run council after it refused to reopen schools under government plans to ease lockdown restrictions.
The Defence Secretary demanded to know why Angie Ridgwell, Chief Executive of Lancashire Council, deemed it unsafe to allow more children back to school from Monday, June 1.
In an email seen by PoliticsHome, Mr Wallace, MP for Wyre and Preston North, said he was “disappointed to say the least by the county’s conduct in this matter”.
And requested a raft of information, including Lancashire’s coronavirus infection rate, the number of hospital admissions and the level of care home infections.
“Given the highest risk children (that is children whose parents work in the NHS and therefore most likely to come into contact with Covid) are already at school, why does the County now think the risk change if more people attend?” the Cabinet minister wrote.
And he added: “I would also be grateful to know if there was a full County Council cabinet discussion on this before it was announced and why the County didn’t feel it should decide school restrictions by district level areas rather than the whole County.
“Many of us were surprised by the Counties [sic] announcement. I would therefore be grateful for the Public Health Director to set out the basis of his decision.”
Boris Johnson gave the green light for a limited number of children to return to schools in England at the start of the week, as part of a widespread easing of lockdown measures.
The Prime Minister also promised the UK would have a "world-beating" track and trace system in place to help control the spread of the virus, as up to six people from different households were permitted to meet up in parks and gardens.
TRACK AND TRACE 'NOT FULLY OPERATIONAL'
In its initial email to Mr Wallace, the council said it had reached its conclusion after “careful consideration of all the relevant public health information at both the national and local level”.
And it said local public health directors were “not confident that all five of the Government's tests for easing restrictions are being met in Lancashire”.
It said a track and trace system was not yet fully operational in Lancashire, and that it was “await(ing) detail from central government on what their requirements of us will be for this important part of the country's ongoing plans to be able to live safely with the virus for the foreseeable future”.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock claimed earlier this week that the system was "up and running" and had been in contact with "thousands of people", but was unable to provide specific figures.
The council’s email goes on: “We do want our schools to open as soon as possible and appreciate that a huge amount of preparation has taken place.
“We also recognise that producing this guidance a few days before schools were planning to reopen to more pupils will disappoint some children and parents and add to your workload.
“However, the safety and wellbeing of pupils, families and staff are paramount to us and we issued the advice as soon as the full facts around the contact tracing system and the situation across Lancashire became clear.”