THE leader of a council branded "cowboys" by an MP has written to the Prime Minister to deny accusations of diverting Government Covid funds to "balance the books".

Somerset County Council's Cllr David Fothergill refutes allegations that County Hall has misdirected emergency funding.

He was responding to allegations from Bridgwater and West Somerset MP, fellow Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger, of a "con trick using cash that was meant to fight Covid".

Mr Liddell-Grainger made the comments in the House of Commons, which provides him with protection from any potential legal action,

In Mr Fothergill's letter to Boris Johnson, he refutes the claims and says he wishes to "set the record straight".

He expresses his gratitude for £32million of emergency funding, which he says is being used as intended "to help residents, communities and businesses in Somerset".

Mr Fothergill writes: "Covid-19 funding has enabled Somerset to help keep infection rates among the lowest in the country.

"To date we have received just under £32m of emergency funding which has been used in line with Government guidelines to cover additional costs such as PPE, supporting districts with housing the homeless, supporting our community sector, dealing with extra demands particularly in areas such as social care, supporting our care providers, funding for clinically extremely vulnerable, LA emergency assistance grants for food and essential supplies, schools and college transport capacity, the Covid-19 Winter Grant scheme and the Contain Outbreak Management Fund.

"The further £10.8m of Covid-19 funding that was announced as part of the 2021/22 provisional finance settlement will also continue to be used in this appropriate way.

"I can confirm to you that we have fully completed the returns and claims that have been required of us by your Whitehall departments and we will continue to comply in full."

Referring to Mr Liddell-Grainger's intervention in Parliament, Mr Fothergill adds: "Finally and very sadly, can I say how much I regret that you and your team’s focus on leadership at this critical time should have been diverted by a lack of understanding from an MP who has failed to attend any briefing with myself or the chief executive for a significant number of months."

Addressing the Prime Minister, the MP had said last week: "Somerset County Council was given huge grants and then diverted much of the money to balance the books.

"These cowboys want to become a new unitary authority. It is a cruel con trick using cash that was meant to fight Covid.

Somerset County Gazette: MP Ian Liddell-Grainer. Archive pictureMP Ian Liddell-Grainer. Archive picture

"The Prime Minister is Somerset born and bred. I urge him to intervene and put a stop to it now.”

Mr Johnson responded by saying: "My Hon Friend is absolutely right to highlight what is going on in Somerset where the county has a duty to use Covid grants for that purpose and not for any other and I thank him for drawing attention to what is going on.”