Published: 15:27, 02 December 2020
| Updated: 16:23, 02 December 2020
Thousands of items of personal protective equipment (PPE) have been stockpiled in a council-owned depot in Kent amid Brexit concerns.
Kent County Council (KCC) holds a 12-week supply, which includes face masks, gloves, aprons and hand sanitiser, at its Aylesford depot.
They are based in a large warehouse and have been acting as a "contingency" in case of supply chain disruption for GPs, pharmacies, dentists, care homes and drug and alcohol services.
County Hall has described its plans as "sufficiently robust" after a Brexit report was published nine days ago, which revealed access to PPE had become a "new risk" because of the pandemic.
Barbara Cooper, KCC's corporate director for environment and transport, said: "Importantly, we have a section in the report on our PPE supply chain and how we hope to protect those going forward."
However, opposition councillors have raised concerns about Brexit congestion and the "material risk" to the movement of essential goods, such as foods, pharmaceutical drugs and PPE stocks, on Kent's roads.
For several months, Maidstone County Hall has been holding a PPE stockpile on behalf of local emergency planning group, the Kent Resilience Forum, as a contingency for any supply chain disruption.
This was jointly established by KCC and the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) some time after the pandemic struck the UK back in March.
During the first wave of the pandemic from March to June, KCC stepped in to bulk purchase more than £5million of PPE at short notice.
More than 2.4million items were distributed in more than 1,300 deliveries to the most vulnerable people in the county and front line health workers.
A KCC spokesman said: "We are confident that the arrangements for the supply and distribution of PPE are sufficiently robust for any supply chain disruption that may arise when the transition from the EU ends or otherwise."
The Aylesford depot is more than 40 miles away from Dover, which is described as being on the "front line".
"It is good that KCC are so worried about Brexit that they are stockpiling. But it does beg the question, should the rest of the residents also be stockpiling?"
But Cabinet minister Michael Gove has warned there could be queues of up to 7,000 HGVs each day in his "reasonable" worse-case scenario. Several Brexit lorry parks are being set up to minimise disruption from potential border delays.
KCC's main opposition leader Cllr Rob Bird (Lib Dem) said: "What happens if we have queues of more than 7,000 lorries? I think Kent is at risk of being severely crippled."
Meanwhile, Cllr Barry Lewis (Lab), who sits on KCC's public health committee, warned that stockpiling was a "double-edged sword".
The Margate county councillor said: "It is good that KCC are so worried about Brexit that they are stockpiling. But it does beg the question, should the rest of the residents also be stockpiling?"
Other satellite PPE storage sites are being created across Kent. The council says this has come at no additional cost aside from the storage.
A spokesman added: "The DHSC has assured us that the Aylesford depot is well stocked and there is no prospect that PPE will not be available as needed."
The government says it has delivered more than 5.4 billion items of PPE to frontline workers across England and ordered 32 bn items to provide a "continuous" supply for months to come.
A DHSC spokesman said: “We have a storage network in place to manage our PPE supply to meet demand throughout the winter.
“We will deliver an increased monthly order for Kent in December to ensure they have a sufficient stockpile in case of localised travel disruption.”