A trade union branch which represents over 7,500 public service workers across North Yorkshire has raised questions about an outbreak of over 100 Covid cases at a College. The outbreak follows the mass return of army recruits from across the country during the national Covid lockdown.
The North Yorkshire branch of the public service union UNISON represents civilian staff who work at the Army Foundation College near Harrogate. Hundreds of young army recruits have returned to the College since the start of the year.
Wendy Nichols, Branch Secretary of North Yorkshire UNISON, said: “Our members working at the Army Foundation College contacted us at the beginning of January raising concerns that young soldier recruits were being brought back to the College from across the country.
“I understand that the first group of 800 young soldiers returned on 7 January. A further 600 returned to the College on 14 January, and as many as 300 brand new recruits are expected to arrive on 1 March.
“During a national lockdown we are all being instructed to stay at home as much as possible and only leave home for essential purposes. We are also being told to stay within our local area.
“Our members support the lockdown measures and are following the rules. They, like me, cannot understand why the MOD thought that moving so many young people across the country was appropriate, especially without any testing before they left their home areas.
“Hundreds of young soldiers have been returning to Harrogate from across the country, potentially with the virus. We understand that they were tested on arrival, and we now know that there has been over 100 confirmed positive Covid cases at the College.
“Why was it necessary to move these young people now? If it was necessary, why did the MOD not think it would be sensible to conduct Covid tests before they left home? OFFICIAL
“The College and the MOD must protect the young soldiers, our members and the local community. Until they put in place appropriate measures to stop any further escalation of the current situation and to bring the outbreak under control, there must be no more transfers in or out of the College.”
Mrs Nichols has won support from the Shadow Secretary of State for Defence John Healey MP, who has confirmed Labour’s shadow team have challenged Ministers to put on hold all new recruits until the College’s Covid safety is guaranteed.
She said: “I am pleased that the Shadow Secretary of State will be pursuing this important issue. Our members are not just worried for themselves. They are also worried that further Covid cases at the College would put even greater pressure on health and local government services in Harrogate and North Yorkshire.
“In addition, our new General Secretary, Christina McAnea, has written to the Secretary of State, Ben Wallace MP, to demand that he looks into this urgently to prevent any more Covid cases being brought into North Yorkshire. We are awaiting his response.”
Media Contacts: Wendy Nichols, Branch Secretary – 07976 739441 Daniel Maguire, Communications Officer – 07817 957931
Notes to editors
1. UNISON is the largest trade union in the UK, representing 1.4 million workers in public services. The North Yorkshire branch represents over 7,500 members who work for local government and public services across the county.
2. The branch represents civilian staff working at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate.
3. Christina McAnea is UNISON’s new General Secretary and is the first woman to lead the union.