Canterbury Labour Group has today written to Councillor Ben Fitter-Harding, the new Leader of Canterbury City Council demanding urgent clarification on the local authorities use of COVID-security marshalls.
On Thursday 9th September the Prime Minister announced his intention to introduce ‘COVID-secure marshalls’ to help enforce social distancing and public health guidance in our towns and cities. A spokesman for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government subsequently clarified that local authorities were being ‘encouraged’ to hire marshalls, use volunteers or existing council employees with money from their own budgets for this role. Councillor Alan Baldock, Leader of the Labour Group has sought confirmation that Canterbury City Council has no plans to introduce such measures and will further promise not waste resources in exploring the viability of them going forward.
Whilst the rule of law has to be upheld, the government has already clarified that ‘COVID secure marshalls’ will not have the power to arrest, fine or disperse people in breach of COVID security laws. People breaching laws should be subject to the police and our own enforcement team who are trained, vetted and work in close partnership with the police. Senior Police Officers across the country have condemned the new marshalls with Ken Marsh (chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation) likening these new roles to being more like “COVID wombles than marshalls” – front line officers we have spoken to are confused about their role and remit.
At a time where government guidance on the COVID crisis is continuing to evolve rapidly, we are worried that such ‘vigilante justice’ will put members of the public and the marshalls themselves at risk and stretch already depleted police resources. On a practical level the cost involved in vetting, training and deploying these individuals is also something which we cannot afford without central government funding.
In this letter Councillor Baldock said “public newspapers have already drawn attention to COVID-secure marshalls on the streets of Cornwall and Leeds. We call on you to publicly commit to Canterbury City Council not introducing such marshalls to our streets.”
Councillor Chris Cornell remarked “the actions of a small minority of people since lockdown ended have caused some to take to social media threatening to take the law into their own hands, but dispersing crowds safely and in a way which doesn’t further provoke violence is a skill our highly trained police have in spades and not something you get given with a high vis vest. We need to be swift in confirming that this will not be an approach condoned here.”
Councillor Mel Dawkins commented “this is just one more ridiculous initiative by the government to look like they are doing something but when actually they are doing nothing. It’s a total waste of money and resources that are already stretched by the lack of support from central government to local authorities”.
Since the announcement social media has roundly criticised the idea of these marshalls who were announced without local authorities having any prior warning. Newspaper articles have claimed the marshalls could be paid up to £30,000 for telling people to wear masks and advising people how to use one way systems. A full copy of the letter is available here.