THE Labour group on Lancashire County Council is calling for a “community-building” exercise to help the region better tackle coronavirus.

County Hall’s main opposition party says that people will need to support each other in whatever safe way they can in the event of an epidemic – in spite of a tendency to “draw back”.

Deputy Labour leader John Fillis believes the most vulnerable need to be the focus of that support, from both the authorities and individuals, if the crisis deepens in the coming weeks.

“People will have elderly relatives, neighbours and friends – and we need to be friendly but safe.

“You could phone to check on them, because nobody is sure what will be available in the shops.  If you go round, you don’t have to go in.

“With the support of our local communities, we feel we can tackle the virus a lot better,” said County Cllr Fillis, who added that the authority’s staff would also need support in the event of a depleted frontline of workers.

But a political row has broken out after Labour suggested establishing a cross-party working group under Conservative council leader Geoff Driver to help co-ordinate a response to any widespread outbreak.

County Cllr Driver declined the offer on the basis that it could hinder established procedures – although initially accepted that the call was made in good faith.

However, County Cllr Fillis described it as “a sad state of affairs” and said other agencies would have welcomed cross-party co-operation.

“We also believe the people of Lancashire would like to see their politicians standing together, but the Conservatives don’t want to know,” he added.

That prompted the Tory leader to accuse Labour of political opportunism.

“The point is that the established procedures are well able to deal with this potential emergency and interfering in those procedures risks reducing their effectiveness," County Cllr Driver said.

“But is anyone fooled by Labour’s shameless approach? If they really did want to help, they would not have made their offer via an announcement in the press.

“They should hang their heads in shame for trying to make political capital out of people’s anxieties in what is potentially a very serious situation,” he added.