Coronavirus: Councils demand extra powers to shut crowded pubs and bars

8 August 2020, 00:01

Councils are calling for the power to shut pubs and bars that fail to implement Covid-secure measures
Councils are calling for the power to shut pubs and bars that fail to implement Covid-secure measures. Picture: PA
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Local councils are demanding extra powers to shut down pubs and bars that fail to ensure their establishments remain Covid-secure.

The call comes after pictures emerged on social media of overcrowded drinking holes and ahead of this weekend's forecasted heatwave, sparking fears of coronavirus spreading.

Local authorities worry the warm weather will encourage drinkers to cram into pubs, bars and beer gardens while making the most of the summer sun.

Under the current guidance, premises should ask customers for a handful of details - such as names and phone numbers - while also providing infection control measures - such as safety screens and social distancing posters.

However, the Local Government Association (LGA) wants these guidelines - which are still voluntary - to be made mandatory with immediate effect. It also wants councils to be given stronger powers to enforce them.

As it stands, local authorities have no specific powers to shut drinking establishments under the emergency Covid-19 regulations, and can instead intervene using the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Read more: Schools must stay open ahead of shops and pubs - Children's Commissioner

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But the LGA - which represents English and Welsh councils - claims this legislation is less specific and makes swift action difficult.

It has called for a temporary Covid-19 objective added to the Licensing Act.

This would allow councils to shut pubs and bars that fail to collect contact tracing data or enforce social distancing. It could also give them the power to revoke licences.

The Health and Safety at Work Act currently allows local authorities to shut down establishments when there is already a "serious and imminent risk" to public health - which the LGA argues only allows councils to shut venues linked to infections or, as it puts it, "once it is too late."

Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "It needs to be mandatory for premises to follow this government safety guidance and councils need the right powers to intervene and take action if necessary."

Read more: 19 coronavirus cases confirmed after outbreak at Staffordshire pub

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She added: "While councils do not want to have to shut anywhere down, business owners need to know that councils have the power to act if local communities are put at risk."

On Friday, Manchester's night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord said several premises had been trying to "squeeze" drinkers in despite infections recently spiking in the area.

"These venues clearly have a disregard for the safety of both their customers and their staff, and I support our mayor, Andy Burnham, and Greater Manchester Police in taking action over repeat breaches in these venues," he said.

Elsewhere, the landlord of the Crown and Anchor in Stone near Stoke-on-Trent was forced to apologise after a cluster of 22 cases was linked to his pub.

Four other venues voluntarily closed their doors following the spike.

Crown and Anchor landlord Custodio Pinto said on Facebook: "I accept that I was simply not strong enough in enforcing the Government's Covid-19 secure rules, despite detailed preparation according to their guidelines.

"I regret I was complacent in enforcing these rules with the customers."

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