Tue, 16 Feb 2021
Covid marshals are patrolling West Berkshire, as the time is now right for their introduction.
From yesterday (Monday) six marshals will be working across the district, with a further two based at testing sites.
Speaking on their introduction at a meeting last night (Monday) Public Protection Partnership (PPP) manager, Sean Murphy, said that the marshals would operate seven days a week during daytime hours but this was likely to change once lockdown eased.
The marshals will be in place for an initial three-month period but Mr Murphy said the partnership would assess how that fitted with the changing local and national landscape.
He added: "The brief they have been given really is high streets but also public spaces, the parks, the commons.
"We've identified set event days in a sense, things like markets, so they've been asked to prioritise things like that, but also things like out of town shopping areas and the likes of supermarkets."
The marshals have no enforcement powers but Mr Murphy said they would work closely with the police.
He said: "The role is to support the community, talking to the public, talking to businesses and to promote social distancing and face covering wearing.
"They will have a visible presence across the district. They are identified as West Berkshire marshals. They have no enforcement powers, that's an important point because it's about engaging the public.
"Primarily their role is to pick up issues that are not enforcement issues. There are a large number of those that come in to ourselves and the police where people raise concerns about specific areas, issues such as social distancing and things like that, that aren't necessarily primarily enforcement issues - but they will work closely with those responsible for enforcement."
Covid marshals were introduced late last year nationally to help enforce restrictions.
Calls for West Berkshire marshals were made in September "to help the community feel secure and help businesses stay secure".
Asked why the marshals were being introduced now Mr Murphy said: "When the enforcement marshal scheme was first developed, a lot of the emphasis was around businesses.
"A lot of businesses were open and at that time we felt that our efforts were best-placed working with those businesses... to operate in a safe as possible manner in accordance with the law and the prevailing guidance.
"We see the timing as the right time in the sense that in the next few weeks, few months, hopefully restrictions will start to ease, and we do see the timing of bringing them in at this point will help a lot with that."
Martha Vickers (Lib Dem, Newbury Central), who called for marshals to be introduced, said she agreed with the timing.
"As spring comes and as people have had their first jabs... people are already feeling a little bit more optimistic, confident - things are starting to relax a little bit, so I think the Covid marshals will remind people that we're not quite there yet.
"Also I think there's a sort of reassurance of having people visibly there to talk to if you have got concerns."
Mr Murphy said that there had "inevitably" been a small number of enforcement actions, primarily prohibition notices, handed to businesses.
He said they had been "businesses that were perhaps operating outside of the permitted operating hours or businesses that shouldn't have been operating at all".
"We've served prohibition notices requiring them to stop whatever particular activity it was they were doing," he added.