Burnham-On-Sea’s MP James Heappey has hit back at former MP Tessa Munt over her attack on local Conservative MPs for ‘failing to gain Westminster’s backing to sort out the County Council’s financial crisis’.
As Burnham-On-Sea.com reported here, her comments come amid Somerset County Council’s decision to make an additional £11 million round of cutbacks on top of the £11 million announced in February.
But MP James Heappey responded: “A press release circulated by a PR firm working for Councillor Tessa Munt has drawn ridicule after forgetting that whilst serving as the Member of Parliament, their client voted in favour of cuts to Somerset County Council’s budget in each of the five years she was in Westminster. As a result of her votes to reduce Somerset’s grants from central government, funding fell during her tenure by nearly £30 million per year – nearly twice the current shortfall in the council’s finances.”
“More disturbing still is that her PR agency don’t seem to understand that Somerset is spending £15.4 million this year in interest on the debts left by the Lib Dems when they were in charge at County Hall. If her party colleagues had not been so reckless in saddling Somerset with hundreds of millions of pounds of debt a decade ago, Somerset residents wouldn’t now be paying almost as much in interest as we’re spending on maintaining our roads.”
“When the savings the county council are seeking are less than the interest being paid on the Lib Dem debt, I’d have thought she’d be better asking her PR team to issue an apology rather than such a nakedly political and factually inaccurate press release. This really is a spectacular own goal from Councillor Munt.”
Mr Heappey says he held lengthy meetings with the leader of the county council in January, May and July in which he’d been briefed on the financial challenges facing the council.
Over that period Mr Heappey says he was working with other Somerset MPs to lobby Government for more money and he continues to do so. Whilst chairing the Rural Fair Share Campaign, Mr Heappey says he was instrumental in securing a review into the funding formula for allocating money to local councils. He is also pushing hard for Somerset to be included in the next phase of the Business Rates retention pilot.
Mr Heappey added: “I’ll take no lessons from Councillor Munt given that she voted for these cuts in Parliament and she’s shown no remorse for the levels of debt her party colleagues have left Somerset residents to pay off.”
“It is telling that whilst just about every other county councillor in the Wells Constituency – including other Lib Dems – has been in touch to talk about the situation at County Hall and my work in Parliament to support the council, Councillor Munt hasn’t made contact at all.”
“I know that she is busy trying to stop Brexit and campaigning for a General Election in 2022 but I’m happy to work with people from all parties for the good of our community. She only needs to find the time to get in touch.”