Plan for ‘Covid marshals’ may be impossible in Southend unless Government agrees to fund it

The Government’s plan for councils to boost enforcement of social distancing in town centres with “Covid secure marshals” will be almost impossible to implement without funding, councillors have said.

Rising cases of Covid-19 across England prompted the Government to introduce tighter restrictions on the public, including the “rule of six” which means restricting gatherings to a maximum of six people.

Police also have the power to issue fines or make arrests and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said local authorities would introduce “Covid secure marshals” who will “ensure social distancing in town and city centres”.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government later said councils would “not receive specific funding for marshals”.

But Southend councillor Martin Terry, who oversees public safety in the borough, said the only way the council would be able to go along with the plan is if they are given the money to do it.

He said: “We don’t have bottomless pit of money we’ve made sacrifices, we haven’t overspent and we have treated our accounts diligently but we are at risk that if the Government keeps piling things on, cuts will have to be made elsewhere.

“We can’t do things out of thin air. The Government has to put money on table.”

He explained the council’s team of community safety officers was recently doubled and along with tackling anti-social behaviour and other problems in the town, they have already taken on a form of coronavirus marshalling.

But the budget for the team was only increased up until the end of September. The Government’s tighter restriction may be in place until the Spring.

The pandemic has already cost the council £22.3million and the Government has only helped to pay half of this, meaning the rest of the bill may have to be picked up by Southend taxpayers.

The council’s deputy leader Cllr Ron Woodley said: “If the Government is not prepared to fund these marshals then I can’t see councils doing it. We already have so many other issues we are struggling to meet in terms of children’s and adults social care.

“The marshals would be important as well, but when you look at the diverse nature of Southend and its complexities in terms of the hospitality sector, you could have an army of marshals and that probably still wouldn’t cut it.

“We can do with what we can with our existing resources. I can’t see the council adding to the deficit we are now looking at by the end of financial year.”

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Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter