Jacob Rees-Mogg and Ian Liddell-Grainger react as Minehead funfair goes ahead in pandemic

SOMERSET public health officials have expressed disappointment that a Minehead funfair took place despite their best efforts to stop it.

Somerset County Council chief executive said the council had “pulled every lever we have” to stop the Leigh Danter Funfair from being held in the town in the last week of September, as coronavirus cases rose across the county.

Minehead’s MP has criticised both the event and the council’s response, describing it as “daft, stupid and dangerous” given the national picture.

Minehead Town Council said the event had complied with national government guidelines to prevent the virus from spreading.

Funfair ruffles feathers

Ian Liddell-Grainger, whose Bridgwater and West Somerset constituency includes Minehead, made his comments in the House of Commons on Thursday (October 1).

He said: “The idea that Minehead Town Council could actually have a funfair at this time is daft, stupid and dangerous.

“Infection rates in Somerset are going up, but Somerset County Council’s public health department has not acted to stop it; in fact, it has not done anything.

The Leigh Danter Funfair was held in Minehead between September 23 and 27 – with social distancing being in place, all rides being regularly cleaned and groups larger than six being refused admittance.

Minehead Town Council ruled the event could go ahead when the full council met on August 25.

Councillor Paul Bolton said during the meeting: “The government guidance hasn’t changed around this particular industry; they are allowed to open providing they’ve got everything in place.”

Pat Flaherty, chief executive of Somerset County Council, said he was “incredibly proud” of the work his staff were doing to keep infection rates “among the lowest in the country”.

He said: “Our public health teams are leading the local response and have dealt with or are actively managing 236 incidents and nine outbreaks – not to mention ongoing work with hundreds of communities, businesses, schools, care homes and other settings to help slow the spread of this virus.

“They have also stepped up to provide additional local contact tracing in support of national efforts.

“In the absence of an outbreak in Minehead, far from doing nothing we pulled every lever we have to stop the event happening – and although our powers are limited, we remain disappointed our public health advice was ignored.”

The organisers of the Leigh Danter Fair were approached by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, but they declined to make any comment on the matter.

Unitary gripes

In the same speech, Mr Liddell-Grainger accused the county council of spending money on promoting its One Somerset proposals for a new unitary authority rather than saving lives.

He said: “I am afraid to say that the county council is far too busy fighting to form a half-baked unitary authority without the backing of the people of Somerset.

“I am afraid that promoting this ridiculous idea and using £1M of public money to do so may cost us lives. King Alfred would not tolerate it.

“Could we have a debate on some of the more stupid things that councils are doing during this appalling situation?”

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, quipped in response: “My honourable friend refers to half-baked proposals and then King Alfred – so I cannot help but remember that King Alfred, as a baker, was not invariably successful.

“I was not there at the time, but I was paying close attention to events.”

Mr Rees-Mogg – who has represented North East Somerset since 2010 – declined to comment specifically on the Minehead event, stating: “I will consult my children and see what they think.”

On the unitary issue, he remarked: “I have always thought that our great county is thought of by the people living within it as one, not as various little dissected bits, and I do have concerns with public bodies spending large amounts of taxpayers’ money campaigning for their own preferred interests.

“It is indeed an issue that we should take seriously and be concerned about.” 

Somerset’s four district councils – Mendip, Sedgemoor, Somerset West & Taunton and South Somerset – have submitted separate plans to the government dubbed ‘Stronger Somerset, which would see the county divided into two new unitary authorities.

Both sets of proposals have been submitted to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG), which is yet to formally respond.

 

Councillor Clare Paul, the county council’s cabinet member for public health, added: “Mr Liddell-Grainger receives a weekly update from us, so he should be well aware of what our public health teams are doing to slow the spread of coronavirus.

“His criticism is badly aimed and badly timed, and he is wrong to belittle the efforts of hard-working staff in order to make political points.

“We all have a part to play in tackling coronavirus, and we would again ask Mr Liddell-Grainger to use his influence positively by sharing key public health messages rather than misinformation, and by supporting our county’s response rather than pushing against it. I hope he reflects on and corrects his error.”

Somerset County Gazette | News