Stark warning to councillors as coronavirus risk upgraded

Cheshire East Council’s response to the coronavirus outbreak has been slammed by members — including one who warned the virus could lead to “five councillors fewer”.
Members of the council’s Audit and Governance Committee discussed Covid-19 at Thursday’s meeting as the authority recognised the outbreak as a corporate risk, (writes local democracy reporter Stephen Topping).
And the very fact that councillors and officers were sat around the same table in Sandbach discussing coronavirus at a public meeting was one part of the criticism.
Coun David Marren, member for Shavington, said: “I don’t see that this council is doing anything, to be honest.
“You walk through — there aren’t even things like gel pods around, we are all sat around this table when the advice is to be a metre away, and here we are all one foot away from each other.
“There is a training session on — I am not going to go to the training session tomorrow because the advice is that you should be doing the minimum that you have to.”
He added: “I don’t see that this council is assessing this risk properly at all or showing me that it is doing anything.”
The committee was considering Cheshire East’s most recent risk register, which was completed in January and rated the coronavirus outbreak with a score of eight out of 16, meaning a moderate risk.
But members insisted the risk should be rated higher and called for measures to protect councillors, who in turn could provide support to their residents.
“I would have said it was significantly more than a moderate risk,” said Coun Marren.
“Even the prime minister has said that up to 80% of the population could be affected by this particular virus.
“What we’ve got in the UK so far, 1.3% (mortality rate) of those affected, the maths would seem to say that at the end of this there will be one councillor less using my calculator.
“If you are looking at what is happening in Italy, you are looking at a mortality rate of nearly 7%, so that works out at five fewer councillors.” Coun Rachel Bailey, member for Audlem and Cheshire East’s former leader, added: “Risk (assessment) needs to be as up to date as possible.
“I have to say it does not feel like this council is necessarily taking heed in the way that other councils are or indeed the Local Government Association.
“I have many isolated elderly residents in my ward who are concerned about coronavirus and are marooned because of other factors.
“I feel that the councillor’s role in their ward is key and we need to feel able to support them.”
Officers moved to reassure the committee that Cheshire East was monitoring the coronavirus outbreak and following the latest advice it was given.
Members were also told that Cheshire East’s democratic services had discussed measures to avoid the virus at meetings and had taken advice from the council’s public health leadership.
Jane Burns, executive director of corporate services, said: “Our emergency planning arrangements have been stood up.
“We are following Government advice, things are changing by the hour, we have updated our (internal) information.
“We are looking at this on a very, very regular basis.”
Sophie Thorley, corporate services business manager, added: “The advice is changing daily and we are monitoring, not just during working hours, we are checking in to see what is changing.
“We are taking all the advice — we are looking at the World Health Organisation, Public Health, gov.uk” 
The committee recommended that the risk of Covid-19 was upgraded to the highest level on the council’s risk register.