The Covid marshal scheme that inspired Boris Johnson’s UK-wide announcement did more than “monitor the queues in Greggs,” a police chief has said.
The Prime Minister’s plan for coronavirus marshals to help enforce the six-person rule has been derided by both council and police chiefs as a “gimmick” that had been given no thought and was utterly unworkable. One police source branded them "Covid Wombles"
A Downing Street spokesman said that Covid marshals had already been used in Cornwall and Leeds, and "can be volunteers or existing (council) staff ".
But Devon and Cornwall’s 10-week scheme was funded by a £400,000 cash injection from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office and relied solely on professional, fully trained and registered security staff who were hired from private companies.
Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, said: “In our case the largest issue they had to deal with was around people who might have had a bit too much to drink, so experience of de-escalating situations involving drunk people, and using powers of persuasion, was vital.
“Over recent weeks they have also helped to locate missing children and discouraged littering and fire setting at some of our best-known beauty spots. The role is certainly about more than monitoring the queues in Greggs, as some have been portraying it.”
A Cornwall police source admitted they were baffled by how the Government thought this could be rolled out longer term, nationwide and with no extra funding. “Our own scheme was very, very different to what they are now proposing. It was a completely different beast,” they said.
Leeds County Council was said to be similarly bewildered by the announcement, with one employee telling a Local Government Agency board meeting: “We don’t have such a scheme and have no idea why they are holding us up as an example.”
The city employed night marshalls from an external agency for four weeks to coincide with the pubs reopening.
Judith Blake, the council leader, told PoliticsHome: “These things have got to be properly funded. Who is going to train them?”
Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said the marshal plan was “nonsense”.
“People are getting angry because it’s been six months of announcements being made at the podium and then no mechanism for dealing with it.
“My own council, Enfield, has a £40m funding gap. It’s billions across the UK. We are heading towards a crisis in local government and this is the cherry on the cake.
“Aside from anything else, the responsibility for enforcing Covid measures sits with the police. The idea that members of the community should intervene in tricky situations when community tensions are already high is absolute madness.”
Nick Forbes, leader of Labour-run Newcastle City Council, admitted he was "incredulous" that the Government expected the marshal plan to be orchestrated with no funding.
"Local authorities have performed above and beyond what is expected of them during this crisis and we can react quickly to any incident,” he said.
“However, the Prime Minister is expecting us to have these marshals recruited, vetted, and trained in three days, with no extra funding or resources to help. This is an impossible task.”
A Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government spokesperson said:
“We are encouraging the introduction of Covid-secure marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces, making sure that people feel safe to enjoy them. Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with Local Authorities to see where else they are needed. We will be setting out further details in due course.”