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Councillors clash as Newham’s response to coronavirus comes under the spotlight

PUBLISHED: 17:00 19 June 2020 | UPDATED: 17:41 22 June 2020

Newham's overview and scrutiny committee has discussed the borough's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: LBN

Newham's overview and scrutiny committee has discussed the borough's response to the coronavirus pandemic. Picture: LBN

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Councillors have clashed over the town hall’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Cllr Ken Clark. Picture: Ken MearsCllr Ken Clark. Picture: Ken Mears

Mayor of Newham, Rokhsana Fiaz, and Cllr Ken Clark accused each other of being wrong during a heated exchange over whether or not the local authority “walked away” from a Manor Park care home where 14 people were reported to have died.

The row erupted in a meeting of Newham’s watchdog overview and scrutiny committee on how the borough has been dealing with the pandemic held online on June 15.

Cllr Clark asked whether the council was still supporting Mornington Hall Care Home in Whitta Road, rated inadequate by the CQC watchdog following inspection last July. Newham no longer sends people there.

“Did we walk away from the home?” he asked.

Cllr Susan Masters. Picture: Newham CouncilCllr Susan Masters. Picture: Newham Council

The meeting heard all care homes received the same level of support. Ms Fiaz then upbraided her town hall colleague.

“If you are intimating that in the context of Mornington Hall because of its previous history, that we ignored, neglected or marginalised it as part of our overall response, you are wrong,” the mayor said.

Cllr Clark shot back, “I think you’re wrong”, before the committee chairman intervened.

The clash followed on the heels of Cllr Susan Masters asking whether Newham could have planned sooner for the pandemic during a discussion about care.

Mayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: Marianne Chua PhotographyMayor of Newham Rokhsana Fiaz. Picture: Marianne Chua Photography

Ms Fiaz fired back: “Councillor Masters I appreciate the line of questions, and obviously this is a scrutiny, but if you are suggesting that we had our eye off the ball from the outset, I think that is a really inappropriate suggestion to be making.”

The mayor added from the moment the council knew of the Wuhan outbreak, both she and Newham chief executive, Althea Loderick, were discussing how it could spread.

In the two hour-long meeting, councillors considered the borough’s finances, schools, rough sleepers, ethnic minorities, enforcement and young people during the pandemic.

The financial impact amounts to £59million, which includes a projected income loss of £23.4m and business rate losses totalling £7.1m. It received £152.25m of support.

The borough plans to draw on a £300m government pot provided to cope with further outbreaks.

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The effects mean that predicting Newham’s future income would be hard with the length of lockdown conditions unknown.

Ms Fiaz warned: “The indications are that it is going to be very, very bad.”

Asked if cuts had been identified, the mayor replied the economic programme the administration embarked on after her election in 2018 meant Newham was on the right course to address poverty and inequality.

The council refused to name primaries or secondaries where appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) was not provided for staff or those which had not adapted premises in time for more pupils arriving from June 1.

Councillors heard this was because Newham is enjoying “constructive” relations with them.

Cllr Sarah Ruiz explained that 472 children deemed “vulnerable” were now going to school, but the government had not yet supplied a promised 1,500 laptops.

The meeting heard that none of the four hotels where rough sleepers are staying were saying they should vacate within a month.

The 40 homes in multiple occupation, where street homeless have also been staying, were in “a similar position”, the meeting heard.

A total of 98.2 per cent of rough sleepers have accepted accommodation. The number offered stands at 233 with nine choosing to remain on the streets, according to the council.

The council is also looking at deprivation, using the “limited” data available, as part of its study of Covid-19s impact on Newham’s ethnic minority communities.

Explaining why Newham had the highest death rate in the UK – although Brent is now higher – councillors heard the reasons are not straightforward.

Poor air quality, underlying health conditions and households with several generations could be factors, councillors heard.

Newham saw “a steady increase” in noise and anti-social behaviour complaints from March.

A report shows that between March 2 and June 7, the local authority received 4,416 noise complaints and more than 1,000 reports of anti-social behaviour.

But Newham’s noise abatement service may not return for a couple of weeks because of staffing issues, councillors heard.


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