UK home secretary Priti Patel on Thursday (8) set out plans for £60 million in funds to be shared between police forces and local councils in England to step up their enforcement of coronavirus rules as part of the government’s efforts to tackle the rise in infections.
The so-called surge funding, initially announced by UK prime minister Boris Johnson, will enable police to increase patrols in town centres and ensure that people are complying with the new restrictions, particularly in high-risk areas.
Around £30 million of the total will be ear-marked to cover costs associated with stepping up anti-coronavirus activity of local councils across different areas of England, including appointing COVID-19 marshals or stewards and ambassadors, as they are referred to in some areas, to help businesses and communities follow the latest guidelines, reducing the burden on police.
“This extra funding will strengthen the police’s role in enforcing the law and make sure that those who jeopardise public health face the consequences,” said Patel.
“The vast majority of the British public has come together, followed the law and helped prevent the spread of this virus. But we’ve been clear that, with infections rising, we will not allow a small minority of people to reverse our hard-won progress,” she said.
While the marshals will not carry out any enforcement role such as imposing fines, they will be expected to escalate any breaches of COVID-19 laws to the police and designated local council Enforcement Officers.
The marshals will be in charge of working with local businesses on queue management, direct pedestrians and support social distancing in busy public areas, remind members of the public to wear a face covering where it is required and help with the regular cleaning of touch points.
Enforcement Officers such as Environmental Health Officers will be responsible for explaining and encouraging businesses and communities to follow the latest guidelines, carrying out inspections, issuing fines and closing premises in the case of non-compliance.
“Since the start of the pandemic people and businesses across the country have pulled together and followed the latest guidelines – this will be more important than ever as we head into the winter. That’s why we are giving councils a further £30 million in new funding to support their work on compliance and enforcement in their communities,” said local government secretary Robert Jenrick.
“Councils play a crucial role in protecting people’s safety, supporting businesses and helping the public to better understand the guidance. This new funding will ensure they can step this up further and continue to act proactively,” he said.
Under the current government guidelines, fines ranging between £100 and £10,000 are in place for people refusing to wear face masks, breaching their quarantine requirements or flouting strict rules on large gatherings.
The government said the new funding will be provided to police only for use in relation to coronavirus law enforcement. Forces will be required to provide the Home Office with enforcement plans to demonstrate how the money is being used to tackle non-compliance with public health rules.
The Home Office said it was also launching an income loss recovery scheme for police forces to recover a proportion of income they have been losing due to the pandemic.
The scheme will apply to sales, fees and charges where forces would usually generate income, such as policing of sporting fixtures or providing security at airports.
The scheme will enable forces to recover 75p in every one pound of budgeted income lost due to COVID-19 restrictions this financial year, once forces have absorbed 5 per cent of those losses themselves.