A Bury MP was "appalled" and "disappointed" after it emerged the former Health Secretary suggested funding for a borough learning disability centre could be pulled to pressure him not to rebel against coronavirus restrictions.

Matt Hancock, who served in the cabinet role from 2018 to 2021, and an aide messaged on WhatsApp about warning Bury North MP James Daly that a new centre for disabled children and adults would be “off the table” if he voted against the government, according to an investigation by The Telegraph.

The leaked messages were to pressure Mr Daly not to rebel against Covid-19 rules and vote against the government.

But Mr Hancock’s team said “what’s being accused here never happened” as they disputed the “entirely partial account” based on a trove of leaked WhatsApp messages.

The Telegraph said the discussion between Mr Hancock and political aide Allan Nixon came ahead of a vote on December 1 2020 on the introduction of new Covid restrictions in England.

Mr Nixon said they need to “dangle our top asks” over some of the newest MPs who entered Parliament in 2019 through Boris Johnson’s general election victory.

Mr Nixon suggested, for example, “James wants his Learning Disability Hub in Bury – whips call him up and say Health team want to work with him to deliver this but that’ll be off the table if he rebels”.

“These guys’ re-election hinges on us in a lot of instances, and we know what they want. We should seriously consider using it IMO,” he wrote.

Mr Hancock’s response was “yes 100 per cent”.


Bury Times: Former Health Secretary Matt HancockFormer Health Secretary Matt Hancock (Image: PA)

On Tuesday, Mr Daly said: “I only found out about it yesterday (Monday) when I was told about the WhatsApps by The Telegraph.

“Mr Hancock or anyone else hadn’t approached me at the time to say that if you don’t vote this way, we’ll take this off you.

“So, to say I was surprised, disappointed, appalled that they would even think of doing something like that or even think of talking in those terms and during the pandemic as well.

“I think whatever we do in life we should always prioritise our support and policies to the most vulnerable and those who need our help the most and that’s why I’ve been campaigning for a SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) hub and why I continue to campaign for SEND provision and extra SEND provision in Bury because in Bury it’s just not been good enough for years.”

Read more: Hancock 'discussed withholding learning disability hub'

It was hoped that a new hub would level up opportunities and to have better bespoke services for people with SEND.

Mr Daly added: “The idea was the problem with a lot of the care that kids with SEND get and especially if they are on care plans, is the disjointed nature of education, health and social care.

“The idea was to not only put all of those services in one building, but to create a support service for families but also to give other services which normally aren’t part of these places like career advice, job opportunities to have a service 24/7 so families and young people if they are struggling can go to a place which they know is safe and bespoke and everyone there will know the personal circumstances of each individual.”

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Former Bury North MP James Frith, who is Labour's candidate for the next general election, has slammed the government following the investigation.

He said: “It is absolutely shocking that the needs of disabled people in Bury come second to Tory political party management under this shower of a government.

“Disabled people and funding services for Bury folk should not be used as pawns in a political game.

“This is the latest evidence of the Tories putting party politics ahead of the needs of our town and country.

“They have the wrong priorities.

"Britain and Bury believes in better.”

Taking aim at Mr Daly, he added: “On his watch and that of 13 years of Tory rule- our people, our services and everyday life is worse, not better.

“After we learn the new school in Radcliffe is to be further delayed, we ask also where is the special needs hub?

“What of the special school we were promised?

“The MP for Bury South resigned when he learned of such shameful behaviour!"

In response, a Department of Health and Social Care said: “We have always said there are lessons to be learnt from the pandemic.

"We are committed to learning from the Covid inquiry’s findings, which will play a key role in informing the government’s planning and preparations for the future.”

The Department for Education has been approached for more information about any plans for a learning disability centre in Bury.

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