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Exclusive: Hardly Any Councils Have Implemented Covid-19 Marshals, A Month After Boris Johnson Announced Them

Many councils said they were awaiting clarity from government on what powers and funding the Covid marshals would receive (PA)

5 min read

PoliticsHome can only identify four councils among the top 100 with high coronavirus infection rates that have implemented Covid marshals, a month after Boris Johnson announced them in a bid to slow the spread of the disease.

Despite Boris Johnson claiming in September that the marshals would be introduced to support social distancing rules, dozens of local authorities surveyed by this website said they have had no information or support from central government since. 

Only 8% of councils contacted by our reporters said they had put a system in place since the prime minister’s announcement. 

The news comes amid reports that rates of coronavirus are soaring in parts of the North of England, causing the government to introduce a range of local and national measures, such as the rule of six, to try and slow the spread.  

PoliticsHome understands that the government is expected to make an announcement on further support for councils soon.  

But many councils have told us in the past four weeks they have had no contact from the Cabinet Office about the proposal, no extra funds to set up a marshal scheme, and are still waiting for guidance on what is expected of them.  

The Local Government Association said it would welcome any investment from central government to councils, which could be spent on a marshal scheme. 

PoliticsHome received responses from 49 councils out of the 100 with the country’s highest coronavirus infection rates – all over 38 per 100,000 population as of 29 September.  

Of those, five said they had no plans to introduce Covid-marshals and a further 20 authorities said the proposal is under review or that they are waiting for more information from central government.  

Just four councils told PoliticsHome that they have implemented Covid-19 marshals and have invested their own money in the scheme. 

Meanwhile six councils claimed they had recruited new staff or volunteers to help enforce coronavirus, and almost a third said they were reallocating existing staff to take on new Covid-related roles. 

Announcements made in such a manner only further add to the confusing and inconsistent communication the Government has had with councils

- Cllr Andrew Waller

Councillor Andrew Waller, of Lib Dem held City of York council, said: “We have had no advance notice of the Prime Minister's announcement of the Covid Marshals programme, no indication of additional resources, no additional staff, no powers of enforcement and no time to prepare people for the roles or carry out security checks.  

“Announcements made in such a manner only further add to the confusing and inconsistent communication the Government has had with councils and public health teams throughout the crisis. It’s not clear if or how the Government expect local authorities to fund this scheme, whilst local councils across the country continue to face major financial constraints.” 

Many local councils reported that they were not clear on what the Covid-19 marshal role would entail, what enforcement powers they would have, and what funding would be available for them. 

In Leicester, where residents have been subject to local restrictions since 30 June, a council spokesperson said: “We are investigating setting up a team of Covid marshals, but we’ve had no further details from the Government regarding how a scheme would work or how much funding could be available.” 

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for Birmingham City Council, which is currently subject to a local ban on household mixing, said they were still “waiting for the promised information on funding for marshals” and so were instead using existing enforcement staff in partnership with West Midlands Police. 

And in Liverpool, which became subjected to local restrictions last week, a council official said they were “awaiting details" on how funding would work, as well as “further clarity of the different kinds of roles this money could be used to support”. 

Commenting on the use of marshals in the Yorkshire area, Superintendent Mike Walker of the North Yorkshire Police said local authorities were looking at potential schemes already “despite having no further details yet in terms of the potential funding”. 

“I think the public would expect us not to wait until the potential funding came in and to have plans in place to try and keep the public safe. And that's exactly what we've been doing, and it will continue to do over the coming weeks and over the coming months,” he said at a meeting of the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum. 

I think the public would expect us not to wait until the potential funding came in and to have plans in place to try and keep the public safe

- Superintendent Mike Walker, North Yorkshire Police

PoliticsHome has spoken to four councils who have set up Covid-19 marshal schemes since the government’s announcement, including Fylde Council in Lancashire which has put £35,000 towards the initiative. 

Meanwhile, Wakefield Council is carrying out interviews for ten marshals this week who will be employed on a temporary basis until 31 March 2021 at a cost of £114,000. 

Blackpool has so far reported the largest cohort of new Covid support staff, having announced last week it is deploying 60 marshals in the area. 

In other areas, councils are repurposing existing community support schemes into non-enforcement roles or are allocating the responsibility to local environmental health officers and police forces. 

Harborough District Council, for example, told PoliticsHome it has implemented a system of paid ‘high street helpers’ to support shoppers and local businesses, while Broxtowe Borough Council has reportedly hired two Covid-19 Information Officers at the end of lockdown to advise on new rules. 

Elsewhere, a spokesperson for North Tyneside Council said they were “exploring using existing council staff in redeployed roles" to act as Covid marshals but added that they would use a different name for the scheme. 

And Preston, South Tyneside and South Ribble councils all said that existing environmental health officers were being used to enforce Covid-19 restrictions. 

Boris Johnson is currently facing fresh pressure to consider tighter national restrictions as the country continues to grapple with coronavirus. 

On Wednesday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told the Commons that 19 of the 20 areas subjected to local measures for two months had seen infection rates increase.

The government is also facing backlash over its handling of testing data after nearly 16,000 positive cases were missed from official statistics due to an IT error. 

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