No powers for ‘Covid-secure marshals’ to enforce new rules

“Covid-secure marshals” announced as part of a plan to enforce stricter rules on social gatherings will have no formal powers and must be paid for by local authorities, the Government has said.

Thursday, 10th September 2020, 3:16 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference on Wednesday the marshals would “boost the local enforcement capacity” as he announced new rules designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.

But the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said they will not be given enforcement powers in new legislation banning people in England from meeting in groups of more than six from Monday.

Marshals have already been deployed by Leeds City Council and Cornwall Council, the Government said.

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Other local authorities will now be “encouraged” to hire marshals, or use volunteers and existing council employees, with money from their own budgets, a MHCLG spokeswoman told the PA news agency on Thursday.

She said they would probably wear high-visibility clothing to “support members of the public in one-way systems and remind them of guidelines”.

Other tasks could be to “give out masks and hand sanitiser in public places,” she added.

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said rank-and-file officers have been left “absolutely baffled” by the announcement.

He told PA: “Any help is good help but what I’d like to understand is what actually is their role, what are we asking them to do?

“Because if they don’t actually have any powers, you know what Joe Public will do very quickly. When the stick needs to be wielded then you need to have the ability to wield it.

“Are they for parks, are they for enclosed areas? I just don’t know, no-one knows.

“The Prime Minister told everyone yesterday as if we all fully understood it.”

He added: “It won’t make any difference to enforcement if you don’t have the ability to enforce.

“If this increases the ability to enforce then it helps with enforcement, but if they don’t have any powers to issue tickets to enforce.”

Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government’s Covid-19-secure marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded.”

Downing Street suggested no extra funding would be made available for marshals.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “So far, councils have I think been using their own staff or they have been volunteers.

“Obviously we have provided funding to councils in general as part of the Covid response but I’m not aware of anything specific.”

An MHCLG spokeswoman added: “We are encouraging the introduction of Covid-secure marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces, making sure that people feel safe to enjoy them.

“Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with local authorities to see where else they are needed. We will be setting out further details in due course.”

Legislation set to replace the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 people and current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors is yet to be published.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock is expected to sign off on the changes, under the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020, over the weekend, with previous restrictions brought into law just hours before coming into force.

People breaching the new restrictions could be fined £100, which will double with every subsequent offence up to £3,200.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) said police chiefs emphasised the importance “of ensuring the public understand the rules in place through clear regulations and communication”, in a meeting with Mr Johnson.

But Mr Marsh cast doubt on Government claims the new legislation will simplify the rules and make enforcement easier.

“Tell me what’s easier or what’s simpler with this, compared to any of the others,” he said.

“There’s got to be some clarity of what they’re trying to get across.”