HAMPSHIRE County Council has been criticised as it is claimed it classed all its employees as "critical workers" and told them they would be expected to continue to send their children to school.

The news comes as last week the government published a list of those who can be classed as critical workers in the response to Covid-19. This means that those working in several areas including health and local government, can send their children to school if children cannot be safely cared for at home.

The county council stressed that it is adhering consistently to central government advice and wherever possible it has asked staff to keep their children at home where it is safe to do so.

It comes as an email seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) and understood to be sent to Hampshire County Council employees revealed that the authority has classed all its employees as critical workers.

In the email county council chief executive John Coughlan says: “The Government has provided more details of who is considered a critical worker. In accordance with these guidelines the County Council has determined that all roles undertaken by its staff are essential to the effective delivery of the COVID-19 response, or the delivery of essential public services and therefore, are classified as ‘critical workers’. As such we would expect that Hampshire County Council staff with children attending school, would continue to take them to school so that staff are able to either attend work, or carry out their role from home in accordance with the County Council’s protocol.”

In the email the authority says it will do its best to support employees and managers will make every effort to be flexible.

But concerns have been raised. Unite regional officer Richard White said: “It’s clearly nonsense for Hampshire County Council to claim that all of its staff are key workers.”

Cllr Keith House, opposition leader at the county council, added: “It’s clearly not the case that all county council employees are key workers. Many should be working at home. Many county services have already closed down as a result of the epidemic yet the working assumption still seems to be ‘business as usual’ and come into the office. Non-essential meetings are still happening. This too can’t be right.”

The Local Government Association (LGA) said many parents working in the critical sectors may be able to ensure their child is kept at home.

The LGA also added: “Authorities should be mindful of the pressure categorising workers as critical workers will have on those working in schools while using their discretion to determine which categories of employee are reasonably needed to deliver the COVID-19 response.”

The county council said: “Not all staff have been asked to send their children to school, only in cases where they are not able to look after children safely at home, whilst undertaking their role. Most staff are working from home. Furthermore, and wherever possible, we have asked staff to keep their children at home where it is safe to do so. School places are only being offered to children where this criteria is not able to be met. Hampshire schools are reporting that the numbers of pupils seeking a place today is far fewer than expected with many having less than 10% of children requiring provision. Parents are following the government’s advice and keeping their children at home."

Cllr Keith Mans, county council leader, added: “Cllr House is welcome to raise concerns with us at any time. Every decision that the County Council has made to-date has been informed by central Government guidance and sound clinical advice by our Director of Public Health for Hampshire. Furthermore, Our responses are being kept under constant review to ensure we remain in a good position to respond to changing circumstances.

“We are all responding collectively to a national crisis and doing so, in the very best way we can to protect the safety and wellbeing of our residents and staff.”