Council staff face abuse and attacks for working during pandemic

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Council staff and contractors in Southend have faced verbal abuse, been spat at, and been physically attacked by members of the public for continuing to work while residents are told to stay home.

The spate of attacks includes an incident on Thursday where a cyclist rode into a member of the community safety patrol team and broke his leg.

The attack was caught on CCTV and is now being investigated.

Other officers to face the abuse have been park groundskeepers and civil enforcement officers.

Councillor Martin Terry (Ind), cabinet member for community safety, said: “This is unacceptable behaviour from certain individuals within our community.

“I hope the police are quick to catch the offending cyclist and any other perpetrators using the full force of the law to protect our workers.

“I understand that people staying home feel like other workers should not be on the streets, but our staff are simply doing their job as per the national guidance issued.

“They have been keeping the streets and parks safe and in good order, so our residents can continue to use them, whilst following the Government’s social distancing guidelines.”

However, Cllr Stephen Aylen (Ind), has criticised the council for allowing officers to work during the pandemic, saying it should be “setting the example”.

Mr Aylen said: “Lots of companies have closed down and they have laid off staff to protect them.

The council is saying stay at home, stay safe, yet they have guys going out cutting bushes and laying turf.

“We do not need turf being laid and we do not need to maintain places.

“Stay at home, stay safe – the council is going against this. We should be minimising all council services to minimum to protect staff. If they catch who will be doing the work when coming out of this?

He continued: “People have lost their jobs. They don’t know how they will pay for their shopping this week and they’ve got kids at home.

“They are scared and they are frightened, and this is manifesting in all kinds of ways.”

In one letter sent to Mr Aylen, a resident said: “I am a business owner and to protect my staff I have closed the business.

“By closing the business I risk it never opening again and financial ruin not just me but for my whole family.

“I will not be responsible for the deaths of my work colleagues, I have a duty of care to the people I employ not to mention health and safety measures that I adhere to, not just legally but also morally.

“To see council workers working in this current state of emergency sickens me to my very core.”

The council has said an announcement on changes to park maintenance is expected soon.

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter