On Monday we asked Hastings Borough Council (HBC) if they would put up a councillor, preferably Council Leader Kim Forward, for a video interview surrounding the issues raised by local people over the setting up of a Covid-19 testing station on The Stade over the weekend.
We were told that neither Ms Forward or her deputy Colin Fitzgerald were available. Ms Forward offered a ‘telephone conversation’ but pointed out: “I don’t have anything to add to our issued statement which I believe is very clear.”
But we didn’t agree that the initial statement was clear and the social media response from businesses and individuals backed that up. There were a lot of issues that local people wanted to have answers to on why The Stade had been selected in the first place.
At Hastings In Focus we were keen to know whether any elected representatives – your councillors, the people who supposedly represent your views and concerns – had visited the old town to speak to people first hand and try to understand their point of view, we’ve now been told by Ms Forward that councillors did not visit the old town, they sent council officials instead.
Here is the full list of questions we emailed to Ms Forward and her replies in italics.
Q. What were the other sites that HBC suggested? Was The Oval one of them and if it was why was it not deemed suitable?
A. A number of council sites were discussed, this included Summerfields and the Oval, they did not meet the military planners’ criteria.
We also approached some private landowners, the details of which obviously we can’t publicise. Unfortunately none of these were suitable either.
Q. The statement says that the council was told that the organisers would deal with ‘publicity’ in hindsight would it not have been advisable for the council to have ensured the organisers were doing that and to have at least told some of the key business people in the area?
A. The council’s role in this was only to identify sites that may be suitable. Once a site was selected we were told not to publicise this. We did however inform the RNLI and Eat@TheStade. The new local outbreak plan published by East Sussex County Council now identifies a role for district and borough councils in communicating details of future local MTUs in the town. This wasn’t the case previously.
Q. When it was clear that people were very unhappy about what was going on why did it take the council so long to respond? The first official communication via the council’s Facebook page appeared at 22.48hrs on Saturday, 12 to 14 hours after the event? That statement does not appear to have been released directly to the press – I picked it up from Facebook – why not?
A. The council response was immediate. Council officers were on site before 10am, speaking to business owners and military personnel running the site. Thereafter council officers, some of whom weren’t on call, spent the rest of the day responding to emails and queries including from the media. Once these had all been dealt with the statement was then posted on the council’s Facebook, Twitter and website, making it available to all.
Q Did any elected members visit the area on the day, to talk to traders to either find out directly what their issues were and/or to try and explain how the decision had been arrived at?
A. No as officers were on site on both Saturday and Sunday.
Q. Who within HBC sanctioned The Stade open space as a potential site? Was it a decision taken by elected members or was it a decision taken by an officer? At some stage in the process someone obviously thought that area was an appropriate site or it wouldn’t have been on the initial list of potential sites?
A. Our COVID-19 Taskforce, who are managing the council’s response to the pandemic, and which is attended by councillors and senior officers.
As a conclusion to this, you may also be interested in my comments in this week’s Observer column: “…a mobile testing unit was set up at The Stade last weekend. This was organised by Public Health through the Local Resilience Forum and run by the military. These units have been designed to be used in town centre areas to enable people to have access to local testing. The government has made clear the importance of testing in the ongoing fight to contain and control the spread of the coronavirus.
“We understand that approximately 140 people used the facility in Hastings and just two tested positive – of those processed so far. Most of the people who were tested, many of whom were key workers, have been reassured about their health status and can safely return to work and their lives. A small number have had it confirmed that they need to continue to self-isolate and take actions to reduce the spread of the virus.
“The council recognises that the testing system is here to stay, the important public health role it plays, and will continue to support it. With partners, we will continue to look for sites for the pop-up testing unit to be hosted in the town as needed.”
On the issue of who was responsible for publicity surrounding the setting up of the testing centre Hastings Online Times reported that a spokesman for the Sussex Resilience Forum told them: “All advertising and public notices are the responsibility of the local council and Public Health England.”