England

Coronavirus: Marshals 'unlikely' in England, councils say

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The widespread introduction of Covid marshals to towns and cities in England is "unlikely" and "almost impossible", some local authorities have said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested the marshals would enforce rules about social distancing, gathering in groups and wearing masks.

But a lack of detail has been criticised by council and health officials.

Questions about funding, recruitment and enforcement powers remain.

Local authorities "are best placed to determine the model of deployment and responsibilities of marshals in their areas" and "further details will be set out in due course", a government spokesman said.

'Put money on table'

But Bob Cook, leader of Stockton Council, said the announcement had "caused a lot of confusion".

"We've had no answers to any of these questions. It's a very strange way of doing things," Mr Cook said.

"Things would be a lot clearer if the government would actually talk to local councils before making such announcements."

Mr Johnson has said marshals could also be volunteers or current members of council staff.

A Cheshire East spokesman said any new responsibilities would "have to be fully funded by Whitehall", while Southend's public safety councillor, Martin Terry, said: "We can't do things out of thin air. The government has to put money on the table."

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes complained authorities were given just days to hire and train the marshals "with no extra funding or resources to help" and accused the government of "serial incompetence".

Spokespeople for Lewisham, North Yorkshire and Swindon councils have also said they need more information about what marshals are actually expected to do, what powers they will have, how they will be paid for.

'Friendly help'

The prime minister has also been criticised for the manner of the announcement.

Lewisham Council's cabinet member for finance, Amanda DeRyk, said she learned about the plans on the radio.

"You're like, hang on a minute, that's the first we've heard," she said.

"There's this sort of policy of decision making by sensational announcement. I heard that on [Radio 4's] the Today Programme".

The Local Government Association said: "Even if marshals were rolled out in great numbers, they will not have enforcement powers so it is important that residents do not expect councils to be able to act when they cannot" and "any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded".

A few areas of the country - including Leeds and Cornwall - have already introduced marshals to give "friendly help and guidance".

Additional reporting provided by the Local Democracy Reporting Service

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