'Concerns' over £500k Essex County Council payments to Southend internet comedian Simon Harris

Men Behaving Dadly blogger Simon Harris.
Permission sought and given to ITV Anglia
Credit: Simon Harris/Men Behaving DAdly
'Man Behaving Dadly' blogger and fundraiser Simon Harris has responded to concerns over six-figure payments he received from Essex County Council during the Covid pandemic. Credit: Simon Harris

Council payments of almost £500,000 for a comedian to run a coronavirus information social media page have been described as "concerning".

Essex County Council paid campaigner Simon Harris the six-figure sum during the coronavirus pandemic for his work as a "community engagement" contractor, which primarily included running a Facebook page.

The payments to the 40-year-old, who is known for running the spoof Southend News Network as well as fundraising for charities, were detailed in finance documents released by the council.

Essex County Council defended the spending, saying they had an "established relationship" for Mr Harris to provide "digital consultancy and delivery via social media channels" and that the payments covered more than just social media work.

But the leader of the council's opposition said he had "concerns" about the "large sums of money spent" and was waiting for answers from those responsible for authorising the payments.

Essex County Council Credit: ITV Anglia

"Coronavirus Facebook campaign"

Mr Harris was involved in Essex Coronavirus Action (ECA), which was a community social media campaign set up by Essex County Council during the pandemic to provide reliable sources of information relating to the Covid-19, the vaccine and lockdown.

Responding to the details of the payments becoming public, the comedian told EssexLive the funding was allocated to "establish, build and maintain" social media groups and to run campaigns. 

On Wednesday, Mr Harris' highly-followed personal social media profiles had been removed.

Analysis of Essex County Council's day-to-day spending breakdown reveals 34 payments were made to Mr Harris between 4 June 2020 and 24 April 2023, totalling £493,000.

The sums varied in value from £500 on 19 May 2021 to £100,000 on 11 August 2021.

Mr Harris' work featured a Facebook page that was set up in March 2020 "in response to a rise in misinformation across local social media", official council documents state.

Documents from a meeting of the council's Cabinet state that ECA was a "community campaign model" managed by the "Council's Communities team".


The decision to pay Mr Harris almost half a million pounds for the work was questioned by opposition councillors after the news emerged this week.

Cllr Mike Mackrory, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrat Group on Essex County Council, said: "I do have concerns about the amounts of money that have been spent and I have specifically asked the directors responsible to give details about when the payments were made, what for and who authorised the payments.

"Other concerns are why it was necessary to engage this individual when we have a substantial communications team ourselves. It appears to be for fairly straightforward social media roles.

"At the time there was a very urgent need to get information out to people, but I want to know what it was spent on and what for, as these are large sums of money."

Essex County Council said the campaign run by Mr Harris helped its efforts to spread accurate information during the Covid-19 pandemic. Credit: Essex County Council

Campaign helped "engage much larger population"

A spokesman for Essex County Council said: "The funding helped deliver and amplify public health and other messages over a number of campaigns.

"This piece of work was vital in getting to the heart of communities in Essex and was particularly important during the pandemic, when information had to be delivered at speed, therefore it made sense to use existing contractors and relationships."

They added that the contractor relationship with Mr Harris allowed the council's information to "engage with a much larger proportion of its population than would otherwise have been possible".

The spokesman added: "It is important to note the payments covered more than just social media content and included activity to directly support others doing similar work across the county.

"The approach used by the Council was subsequently peer-reviewed and was found to have been effective by an independent report review by a Public Health Intervention Studies Centre (based at London South Bank University) and funded by the National Institute for Health Research."

The prankster claims "the nature of the work" meant that during the most serious stages of the pandemic, he was providing services seven days a week and at a variety of times of the day and night - as were the team of community managers who supported the project.

Mr Harris reiterated that the payments covered more than just social media content and included activity to directly support others doing similar work across Essex.

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