February 11, 2015
Burnham-On-Sea MP Tessa Munt in row with County Council leader

A row between Burnham-On-Sea's MP and the leader of Somerset County Council has deepenend after a national newspaper story at the weekend.

The Sunday Times published a story claiming that a law firm hired by the County Council wanted the newspaper to reveal the identity of a whistleblower that tipped off the press about alleged sex abuse in care homes.

In the wake of the story, Burnham's MP Tessa Munt has criticised Conservative council leader John Osman after hearing a House of Commons speech by Eric Pickles about Rotherham Council.

She said: "As I listened to Eric Pickles describe the failings which allowed the distressing abuse of children in Rotherham, I found myself comparing these failings with those in Somerset."

"The leader of Somerset County Council has denied problems, deflected criticism and used threats of legal action in a so called ‘personal' capacity to intimidate and silence whistle-blowers and critics."

"If he feels desperate enough to threaten the local MP with a letter before action, then the obvious questions are is who else has he bullied into silence, at what cost to taxpayers, and what on earth has he got to hide?"

In response, Mr Osman said he was "disappointed with the continual inaccurate and politically motivated comments" from Ms Munt.

He added: "I wish that she would turn her attentions to help benefit the children in Somerset who are our number one priority."

"It is true that I wrote to the MP for Wells in a personal capacity to ask her to apologise for her inaccurate comments made about me and Somerset County Council That letter was written in November and to date she has failed to apologise or even have the courtesy to respond. I have no issue with the MP raising issues about children’s services, but she must stop using a list of inaccurate and misleading statements that she knows are not true."

"It should be stated that since 2013 Ms Munt has failed to engage with staff and councillors at Somerset County Council. Meetings have been offered to the MP to discuss the issues that exist in our Children’s Services. Mrs Munt has refused to meet. It is disgraceful that she continues to use children’s services as a political football and fails to discuss any matters with the council."

"In response to her allegations, no problems have been denied or deflected and there has been no intimidation of any person. At Somerset County Council we operate an open and honest council that is committed to addressing the issues that exist with Children’s Services. I am sorry to say that the inaccurate comments are typical of the abuse Somerset County Council, its staff and councillors take on a regular basis from the MP."

"Ms Munt needs to do more for Somerset residents, she needs to engage with local authorities and help them to provide outstanding services to children, rather than make inaccurate and unhelpful statements which do nothing other than demoralise the staff working hard to care for children."

Somerset County Council has also issued a statement this week regarding the Sunday Times article. It says: "For the avoidance of any doubt, this is not a council that pursues or intimidates 'whistle-blowers' or 'moles'. In the case referred to in the Sunday Times article, concerns raised by a member of staff were acted upon, leading to the closure of a children’s home. The identity of the individual who raised the concerns remains, rightly, anonymous. No member of staff is, or has been, investigated for bringing these concerns to our attention."


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