Boris Johnson's 'Covid-secure marshals' will have no powers, Government admits

10 September 2020, 15:04 | Updated: 10 September 2020, 16:38

By Ewan Somerville

Boris Johnson’s “Covid-secure marshals" to be deployed in towns and city centres to enforce strict new curbs on social gatherings will have no formal powers, leaving police leaders “absolutely baffled”. 

The Prime Minister said the marshals would "boost the local enforcement capacity" of the “rule of six” banning gatherings larger than six people from Monday. 

But the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said they will not be given any enforcement powers under law, meaning they will be unable to fine or arrest anyone flouting the rules

Marshals have already been deployed by Leeds City Council and Cornwall Council, the Government said, and other local authorities will be “encouraged’ to follow suit using volunteers or existing council employees. 

Councils will have to fund the marshals from their own budgets, a Government spokeswoman said, adding they should wear high-visibility clothing to "support members of the public in one-way systems and remind them of guidelines".

READ MORE: What are the new rules on social gatherings in England?

The 'Covid-secure marshals' will patrol town and city centres
The 'Covid-secure marshals' will patrol town and city centres. Picture: PA

Other tasks could be to "give out masks and hand sanitiser in public places," she added.

The PM warned they will also check up on pubs and restaurants to ensure social distancing rules are being followed. 

From Monday, anyone gathering in groups larger than six indoors or outdoors risk being dispersed by police, fined up to £3,200 and possibly arrested. Education and work settings, large families and support bubbles, and organised team sports are among the exemptions. 

Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said rank-and-file officers have been left "absolutely baffled" by the marshals.

He said: “Any help is good help but what I'd like to understand is what actually is their role, what are we asking them to do?

"Because if they don't actually have any powers, you know what Joe Public will do very quickly. When the stick needs to be wielded then you need to have the ability to wield it.

READ MORE: Scotland imposes its own 'rule of six' from Monday

READ MORE: Health Secretary urges students to respect law on mass gatherings

"Are they for parks, are they for enclosed areas? I just don't know, no-one knows. The Prime Minister told everyone yesterday as if we all fully understood it."

He added: "It won't make any difference to enforcement if you don't have the ability to enforce. If this increases the ability to enforce then it helps with enforcement, but if they don't have any powers to issue tickets to enforce."

Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association's (LGA's) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: "We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government's Covid-19-secure marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded."

Downing Street suggested no extra funding would be made available for marshals. The Prime Minister's spokesman said: "So far, councils have I think been using their own staff or they have been volunteers.

"Obviously we have provided funding to councils in general as part of the Covid response but I'm not aware of anything specific."