Greenwich Council may have to fund lateral flow tests for residents, a senior councillor said last night as her colleagues voted to condemn the government for scrapping free Covid testing from next month.
Linda Perks, the cabinet member for finance, was responding to a Conservative call for the council to use unused Covid funds given by the Westminster government to carry on funding free testing.
“I think it’s a bit of a cheek that they are asking us to bail out the government when they’ve just failed to manage the procurement strategy for test and trace kits properly,” Perks told councillors at the last full council meeting before May’s election.
“It may be that we do have to do this in the end, even though that money has been set aside to help our residents recover from the pandemic.
“It’s a cheek that we’re expected to do this – the government should put their money where their mouth is.”
Free testing is to be scrapped under Boris Johnson’s Living with Covid strategy – even though government advice will continue to recommend regular testing for many people.
Yesterday it emerged that Portsmouth was to offer free tests to all residents for three months. The city’s Liberal Democrat leader, Gerald Vernon-Jackson, called the government’s decision to end free tests “a disgrace”. The scheme is expected to cost up to £365,000, The News reported.
Linda Bird, who proposed the motion criticising the government, said: “The incidence of Covid is on the rise, which this government seems to be ignoring, and it’s obvious we’re going to need more kits for our families.
“Some of our families will need one box for every test as they have children, and it’s going to be expensive. These are people who are working and don’t have enough money at the end of the week to buy food so they’re down the food bank.
“I’ve watched our families sink into poverty under this government and I can’t watch any more. I want them to do a big U-turn and skid on the ground.”
Tory councillor Matt Hartley said: “We don’t believe in bringing motions that just call on government to do something. There are going to be vulnerable people who need free testing, and there is £4.998 million of unallocated central government funding for recovery – our amendment would use part of that to set up a Greenwich testing fund.
“This council is a local authority, not a debating club.”
But Perks criticised the local Tories for opposing a motion in 2020 calling for test and trace to be devolved to local councils. “We’ve come full circle if you’re now suggesting we fund it,” she said.
Data from the UK Health Security Agency published yesterday shows that 1,650 people have tested positive in Greenwich in the past seven days – a 42 per cent rise on the previous week. Across Lewisham and Greenwich, 45 people have been admitted to hospital with Covid, up seven per cent on the previous week.
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