Government plan for "Covid-secure marshals" criticised by Stockton Borough Council leader

There has been some confusion over the potential use of "covid-secure marshals" in Stockton Credit: PA Images

The leader of Stockton Borough Council has branded the Prime Minister's plan to enlist a team of "covid-secure marshals" to enforce coronavirus restrictions as confusing.

Boris Johnson recently revealed plans for teams of people to help ensure measures such as social distancing were being adhered to.

However, the leader of the local authority in Stockton, Bob Cook, has criticised the proposals and said they were confusing and "strange".

He said: "We've had no answers to any of these questions.

"It's a very strange way of doing things and it's caused a lot of confusion.

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

The government has said the new marshals can either be volunteers or existing members of council staff.

Their responsibilities would include directing pedestrians, providing information, cleaning touchpoints and preventing mixing between groups.

The government also said it would be councils who should decide how the marshals would be used.

Although Cllr Cook said the council was "very disappointed" to learn of the marshals plan during a press conference last week - adding no details on how they would work had been sent to the authority since. 

Marshals do not have the power to enforce social distancing or to issue fines to anyone who breaks the rules.

However, the government says they can be a "point of contact" on guidelines and can call the police if enforcement action is necessary.

Glen Teeley, chairman of the Cleveland Police Federation, said the wardens could keep officers on the front line if they were used effectively to judge breaches.

He said: "They could pop along and see if there is a breach rather than the police turn up to everything.

"If they're used properly, they could be invaluable to us but nobody knows - and nobody knows how they're going to communicate with us.

"If somebody phones a breach into the police, how will that be cascaded down to the covid team and the council?"

Mr Teeley also said he understood the thinking behind the idea - but added it was a struggle to get councils and the force to work together on joined up policing in normal times.

He added: "How are they going to put it in place with such short notice?

"If you look at Redcar, they work out of Kirkleatham.

"It would help them, rather than one of their response cars driving all the way to Loftus to find out whether there's a breach or not, what level it is, whether they prosecute or just say 'turn the music off you'll have to go home'.

"That would be pointless journey if there's a case where there's a risk to life in Eston - and you've got a 20 to 30 minute drive with blue lights back in the other direction.

"That's where you're potentially putting lives at risk with zero guidance for something wishy washy.

"It's going to be a case of getting the wardens to ask the right questions and having it pitched at the right level.

"Getting them into the right areas ascertaining whether there was a breach would leave our resources on the street.

"It would work that way - but it would be nice to know how it's going to work. "

A spokesman for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government said: "We are encouraging the introduction of marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces (and) making sure 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 councils to see where else they are needed."

A spokesman for Redcar and Cleveland Council said it was still awaiting more details on how the marshals will work.

Middlesbrough Council, which has its own existing team of street wardens, has also been contacted for comment.