Charnwood Borough Council set up a dedicated business compliance team at the start of the pandemic to support retail businesses and hospitality venues.
Charnwood Borough Council supported its local businesses by setting up dedicated teams to help them comply with COVID-19 rules. There was a team aimed at retail and another which worked in evenings with hospitality venues.
Both were supported by the council’s environmental health officers. The support proved invaluable to businesses and meant the council hardly ever had to rely on enforcement action.
‘We wanted to support businesses’
Charnwood Borough Council set up a business compliance team at the start of the pandemic and this oversaw the work of the dedicated support teams for the two sectors.
The retail team – known as high street helpers and ambassadors – patrolled the main town of Loughborough along with some of the surrounding villages. They provided help and advice along with stickers to help with queuing, social distancing and establishing one-way routes.
The team was initially drawn from redeployed staff before external staff were recruited. At first there were six officers doing patrols, but as the pandemic progressed that was reduced to four. They were deployed as restrictions started to lift during the first lockdown and remained in place until summer 2021.
The hospitality team – known as COVID-19 stewards – visited pubs and restaurants on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings. The team of six were recruited from an events firm the council had used previously as they had experience in providing security at hospitality events. They started working in August 2020 when the Eat Out to Help Out national scheme was launched.
Head of Regulatory Services Alan Twells said: “The night-time economy was picking back up and places were getting busy again. But some restrictions were still in place and we had the introduction of the tiers during the autumn. These stewards provided reassurance – supporting businesses and talking to customers. Because the stewards had experience in this field, they had the skills to deal with situations that arose.
“It was, after all, important that every business was treated fairly and they were operating to the same guidelines. We kept them in place until the winter 2020 lockdown and then as we gradually reopened again in spring 2021. It was only in July they stopped.”
The role of environmental health
Both the stewards and high street helpers were supported by the team of environmental health officers. They were on hand to take enforcement action where necessary or provide more detailed regulatory guidance and warnings.
In the early part of the pandemic, five food safety environmental health officers were deployed to work in the COVID-19 business compliance team and they were supported by other enforcement officers, including those who focus on things such as enviro-crime, at the busiest times.
As a borough council, Charnwood is responsible for environmental health, while the county council is in charge of trading standards so throughout the pandemic the team has also worked closely with their Leicestershire colleagues.
For example, enforcement action under the No 3 regulations is taken by the upper tier authority in two-tier areas. But under an agreement with the county council powers given under the No 3 regulations direction notices were delegated to the borough’s environmental health officers.
Trading standards and environmental health officers also did some joint visits to businesses that were proving problematic. “Where it was simply a case of a business being open or closed, we had the power to take action but the No 3 regulations are used where COVID-19 restrictions are not being followed – it could be in terms of numbers of people at premises, gatherings or not doing table service,” said Mr Twells.
But Charnwood never actually got to the point where the No 3 regulations were used – something Mr Twells puts down to the proactive approach in working with businesses.
Our mindset is always very much that we want to support businesses. If we support them, that helps them achieve compliance and that is better for public safety – especially in a pandemic.
“We stood down these teams in July as restrictions lifted, but we are now reactivating this to respond to Plan B. We have been providing businesses with updates, face covering posters and contacting those which the COVID-19 certification will apply to.”
The unsung heroes
But Mr Twells said it is also important to remember the “unsung heroes” of regulatory services, such as the environmental protection team, which deals with noise and nuisance complaints. The number of complaints doubled during the first year of the pandemic to around 1,200.
“People were at home more and so became more aware of their neighbours – dogs barking, music playing and there was, of course, lots of DIY being done. At the same time people were anxious so we saw a big rise in complaints.
“It was difficult for our teams. At first, they were not allowed to go out at all, so a lot of this had to be done remotely. These situations can be very difficult to resolve, but our teams worked really hard.
“It is perhaps not what you would consider the frontline of the pandemic – but the work they did was still vital.”
Head of Regulatory Services
Charnwood Borough Council