Covid-secure marshals will be introduced in towns and city centres in England to help ensure social distancing rules are followed, Prime Minister Boris Johnson says. However, there are questions over who will pay for them and those already working in some areas have no power to enforce rules.

What's the aim?

Mr Johnson said the government and the public want to see "stronger enforcement of the rules". In order to do this, he said marshals would be introduced and a register of environmental health officers - who councils could use for support - would be set up. He added that:
  • Hospitality venues will be legally required to record the contact details of everyone visiting and to hold them for 21 days
  • Hospitality venues which fail to follow Covid-secure guidelines will be fined
  • Local authorities will be supported to make greater use of existing powers to close venues which break the rules
  • The police will have new powers from 14 September to break up, and fine, groups of more than six people
However, the plans have been criticised. Conservative MP Steve Baker, for example, said it would "turn every public space in Britain into the equivalent of going through airport security".

Who will the marshals be?

The government said marshals can either be volunteers or existing members of council staff. The Local Government Association (LGA) said "any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded", but there has been no funding announced by government. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government told the BBC that some areas of the country had already introduced marshals - including Leeds and Cornwall - and it would see where else they were needed. Leeds City Council told the BBC it had introduced six night marshals "who were in place over four weeks and who did not have any enforcement powers". It said these marshals "were positively welcomed by our businesses as necessary and effective in supporting the evening and night-time economy to reopen safely". In Cornwall, street marshals were introduced in Camborne, Helston, Newquay, Redruth, St Austell, St Ives and Truro in July. The council said they would be present during the busiest times of the day to "give friendly help and guidance to those visiting and working" in the area. Banner image reading 'more about coronavirus' Banner

What powers will they have?

The government has still to set out details of what marshals will do, and says those decisions will be a matter for local authorities. In areas where marshals have already been introduced, they have done things like giving out hand sanitiser and face coverings, answered questions and explained social distancing guidelines to members of the public. Marshals do not have the power to enforce social distancing or to issue fines to anyone who breaks the rules. But the government says they can call the police if enforcement action is needed.

Who will enforce the rules for hospitality venues?

Mr Johnson spoke about the need for stricter enforcement of the rules for hospitality venues like pubs and restaurants. Regulation of these premises is a role for local authorities and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), but there have been concerns about a lack of resources. Data provided by the HSE shows that between the beginning of the pandemic in March and 6 September:
  • 14,934 spot checks have been carried out
  • Formal action has been taken in 2,541 cases
  • 2,034 have received verbal advice - and 432 written correspondence and 75 enforcement notices have been issued
To bolster this work, the government announced it would set up a register of environmental health officers that councils could call upon - but it is yet to release further details. The LGA said "given the shortage of environmental health officers, it is positive that the government has committed to a register".