COLOSSAL MISJUDGEMENT: Councillor claimed pandemic plans ‘waste of time’
Footage has emerged of a top Gateshead councillor calling planning for a pandemic a “complete waste of time”.
Liberal Democrat Jonathan Wallace complained about Gateshead Council supposedly wasting its money on preparing for major outbreaks that “never actually happen”, in a video he filmed around two years before coronavirus sent the UK into lockdown.
Coun Wallace, leader of the council’s opposition group, has been accused of a “colossal misjudgement” and Labour rivals have called on him to resign after the footage was unearthed on his Youtube channel.
In the video diary entry, which has since been removed, the Whickham South and Sunniside representative is seen preparing for a council scrutiny committee meeting in April 2018 at which councillors were discussing the local authority’s readiness for a major flu pandemic.
He says: “Frankly it sounds like a complete waste of time, but the government requires councils to do these preparations.”
In a clip filmed after the meeting, Coun Wallace continues: “I said my bit about wasting, needlessly, money on these pandemic scares that never actually happen.”
Since Covid-19 hit the UK in early 2020, there have been more than 153,000 deaths across the country in which the virus was listed as one of the causes.
Almost 7,000 of those have been in the North East, with 506 in Gateshead.
Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service on Monday, Coun Wallace said his prediction was “obviously wrong” but that anyone who claimed back in 2018 that there was a global pandemic on the horizon would have been laughed at.
He added: “If Labour are trying to make out that I should resign for getting a prediction like that wrong, then where were their predictions in 2018 that we would have this pandemic?
“At that time we had gone through swine flu, ebola, and MERS which people had warned could turn into a worldwide pandemic and it never happened. So you can understand why I was thinking that we were preparing for something that was unlikely to happen.”
Minutes of the council meeting held on April 16, 2018, show that it was “queried whether the planning for the flu pandemic was necessary, in particular with regards to the purchase of PPE”.
Coun Wallace, who has come under fire in the past after a sexist comment labelling Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness a “Barbie doll”, said he “cannot fault” Gateshead Council’s response to the pandemic but that the scale of the Covid crisis has gone far beyond the contingency plans that were talked about in 2018.
He added: “Yes we have to be ready with some contingency plans, for example if there is disruption to council services, but don’t spend vast resources on planning for something you just don’t know is going to happen and which could have a completely different shape than what you expect.”
The footage circulated on social media this weekend, with Labour cabinet member John Adams labelling Coun Wallace’s claims a “colossal mis-judgement” and questioning his fitness to lead the council’s Lib Dem group.
Labour council leader Martin Gannon added: “History tells us that pandemics do occur. You can’t predict exactly when, but there should be a state of readiness from the local authority to ensure we have the capacity to support our residents if and when it does happen.
“The cuts over the last 10 years have massively diminished our ability to respond to such things.
“Thank God he [Coun Wallace] doesn’t run the council – and if he has any common sense, he will be thinking the same.
“Planning for emergencies is the reasonable thing for a local authority to do, instead of twiddling our thumbs and saying there’s nothing we can do.
“If I’m being honest, this pandemic has more than stretched our plans and capacity but at least we had the basis of a contingency in place.”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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