Southend Council accused of trying to turn businesses into ‘state snoopers’ as confusion over Covid tiers in Essex continues

A leading councillor has hit out at Southend Council, accusing the authority of asking businesses to “act like the Stasi” and enforce confusing lockdown measures.

In a strongly worded email, Conservative Group leader Tony Cox criticised the council for asking business to “ensure the new national Covid alert system is adhered to”.

Since Saturday, the Essex County Council area has been in the ‘high’ Covid alert tier 2, which bans all household mixing indoors.

The rule does not apply to people living in Southend, who can still mix households indoors, but businesses have been asked to ensure if people do visit from outside the town, they are only in contact with their own household.

But Mr Cox said it was like asking the businesses to be “state snoopers” and to “act like the Stasi”, particularly given the complicated three-tier system which currently has Essex facing tougher measures than Southend, including differences how people can meet indoors.

In the email addressed to Southend chief executive Alison Griffin, Mr Cox wrote: “Businesses have suffered tremendously and we are encouraging them to be state snoopers and act like the Stasi.

“There isn’t any requirement in law for a police officer, let alone a business to stop someone and ask where they are from.

“Let’s take the new Primark store. Are we asking them to be proactive by asking those who enter the store where they are from? One, I doubt they will have any customers by the end of the weekend and two, this could put staff at risk.

“This type of ‘encouragement’ should make us all feel very uneasy.”

It comes after business criticised the council for not being clear on how they should be helping to enforce the different restrictions. Paul Thompson, owner of Pebbles One cafe, suggested businesses could be asked to check people’s ID and passports.

Independent councillor Trevor Harp, who oversees health, said: “We understand this is a complex time for local businesses and residents, and that is why we said last week that a pragmatic and sensible approach has to be taken regarding the new national Covid alert system whilst the areas of Essex County Council and Southend are on different levels.

“Whilst local businesses should endeavour to ensure that restrictions around the new national Covid alert system are adhered to, we have been clear that we will not be trying to catch businesses out and want to support them through this period.

“There is also responsibility on individuals to adhere to the national regulations, so for those that live in the Essex County Council area, they should not be mixing indoors with anyone that isn’t from their household or bubble if they are visiting Southend.”

He added businesses need to focus on being “Covid-secure” and are supporting the national test and trace system.

There has also been confusion over whether Essex Police would be increasing patrols in Southend to help businesses deal with the challenging situation.

Following the announcement that Essex County Council would be escalated to tier 2 while Southend would remain tier 1, the council claimed on Friday that Essex Police would have additional resources available over the weekend to support the town.

But this was dismissed by Essex Police as likely referring to the “Operational Support Group” which takes it in turns to move around the county and help out with numerous issues.

It is “not necessarily” there to address a Covid issue, according to a police spokesman.


Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter