A BLOGGER handed nearly £500,000 to run a Facebook page during the Covid pandemic has told the Echo “he worked seven days a week to provide a vital service”.

Essex County Council’s financial documents reveal Simon Harris, a blogger and internet prankster from Hockley, was handed 34 payments totalling £493,000 to run the Essex Coronavirus Action Page between June 4, 2020 and April 28, 2023.

During the pandemic, Mr Harris was tasked with managing the page and “engaging with communities” and providing updates around preventing the spread of Covid-19 and how to get support.

Following a social media storm after the payments were uncovered on Twitter, the 40-year-old confirmed he made a report to Essex Police in July 2023 “not in relation to the allegations, but the manner in which they were being shared with organisations”.

Mr Harris, who is best known for his blog Man Behaving Dadly and running the former spoof Southend News Network website, has insisted the page was vital in providing information to help “prevent the spread of Covid and how the most vulnerable could get help and support”.

Speaking to the Echo, he added the Facebook “evolved” into a “recruiting tool” that processed “around 5,000 volunteers to help the vulnerable and support vaccination centres”. He adds the nature of the work saw him providing services “seven days per week, and at a variety of times of the day and night, as were the team of community managers we had supporting the project”.

Mr Harris said: “The work is about reducing isolation and connecting people, and it is a way to provide direct information and guidance to the public. It is a community engagement and development platform that also offered mental health and resilience training at various stages.”

The Facebook page was set up as a collaboration between Essex County Council, public health officials, and Facebook admins, including Simon.

The County Council stated it already had an “established relationship” with Mr Harris to provide “digital consultancy and delivery via social media” prior to the creation of the Essex Coronavirus Action Page.

Now known as Essex is United, the page “continues to act as an outlet for updates about statutory services and community-related news”.