COUNCILLORS have clashed over who is to blame for the soaring numbers of Covid-19 cases in Dudley – which now has 13th highest rate of infections in the country.

The borough has recorded 533 positive tests per 100,000, overtaking ‘hot spots’ such as Manchester and Liverpool.

The increase has seen Dudley moving from the lowest case numbers at the beginning of the pandemic to having the highest in the West Midlands.

Cllr Shaukat Ali, Labour’s shadow cabinet member for health and social care, said the fight against the virus has been hindered by conflicting statements and the late introduction of testing. 

He said: “Dudley Council leader’s mixed messages, late provision of testing facilities and delayed lockdown may have led to this significant increase in cases.

“In the space of one week, we heard the council leader say he disagreed with a strengthened lockdown and then agree with it, which is not good when what the people of Dudley need most is clarity.”

He added Labour calls for more action had been ignored, saying: “We also raised the lack of testing capacity some time ago and asked for resources to be diverted from the failing private companies responsible for testing to local councils. 

“This all fell on deaf ears resulting in the higher number of positive cases we are now seeing in the community, schools and colleges.”

But his comments were flatly denied by the Conservative council leader, Cllr Patrick Harley, who described the remarks as ‘silly’ while adding nothing to fighting the virus.

He said: “With the opening of three new testing centres in the borough our testing rate has increased significantly in recent weeks.

“That is the primary factor in the increase in cases. Nationally, trends show there is a correlation between increased figures and increased testing.

“We are expecting to take delivery of 10,000 lateral test kits this week which will produce results in half an hour, and we plan to use those on known contacts of people in the borough who have tested positive."

Dismissing Labour’s claims Dudley has failed to provide clear information, he added: “As a council we have just been nominated for a national award for the quality of our communications during the pandemic. You don’t get those nominations for sending out mixed messages.

 “Our message throughout has been clear and consistent, that people must follow the national guidance to keep themselves and those around them safe.

“People understand unlike Cllr Ali that we are operating in a fast moving and fluid situation but there has not been any mixed messaging whatsoever. 

“Clearly yet again Cllr Ali puts his own self importance with his silly comments to the media whilst offering nothing to assist the borough in tackling this pandemic.

“Lucky for the people of Dudley they stopped listening to what Labour had to offer years ago."

The political row is expected to continue when the council’s cabinet meets to discuss the Covid crisis next Monday (November 23).