Team of Covid officers set up in Portsmouth after 'significant' rise in rule breaches
A ‘SIGNIFICANT’ number of reports about businesses breaching Covid-19 restrictions will be tackled by a new team of council officers performing spot-checks across Portsmouth this week.
Portsmouth City Council has begun sending out a new team of Covid-19 compliance officers to the city’s business, with the aim of visiting 30 sites every day.
The officers will visit businesses when potential breaches of safety rules have been reported to the council via its online reporting tool – to date the council has received 175 reports which have all been investigated.
They will also conduct spot checks in businesses such as bars, shops, restaurants, and takeaways to ensure the correct safety measures are in place.
If a business refuses or fails to comply, the council's regulatory services team will step in – but the new team aims to be a supportive one, according to Councillor Steve Pitt, the council's cabinet member for culture, leisure and economic development and deputy leader.
He said: ‘Every week, we have a significant number of concerns raised, and it’s a stretch on our existing resources.
‘(The team’s) job will be to investigate, but we're not marching in and saying ‘you're not doing this and that’.
‘We are saying, ‘how can we help you?’
‘It's also about fairness. So many businesses are doing so much work to keep people safe and they are doing everything they can. Why should a small number take advantage by flouting the rules?’
The officers – who will be in uniform and equipped with PPE to help protect members of the public – are paid from funding provided by central government, according to Cllr Pitt.
Four officers are expected to be out and about in the city at any one time each day and will typically be on patrol for eight hours during the daytime and evening.
In response to a question about hiring more wardens, the council said it would ‘monitor demand and requirements and adapt the service’ if needed.
Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan – who has previously criticised the way the government has worked with Portsmouth City Council and other local authorities – welcomed the introduction of the new officers.
The MP said: ‘I welcome any reasonable way in which we can work to ensure our city remains compliant with Covid-19 restrictions and people are kept safe.
‘It’s really important that we all work together as a community to tackle this virus as best we can and our local services are properly resourced to do so.’
The officers could be a much needed service for the city’s businesses, according to one city business owner.
Faz Ahmed, the co-owner of restaurant and takeaway The Akash in Southsea, said: ‘I do think we do need support – it’s very complex, things are changing on a daily or weekly basis.
‘Businesses are doing the best they can, I don’t know anyone breaking the rules.
‘It’s very difficult – especially for people in our trade who may not necessarily be able to read the regulations quickly or understand English.’
Anyone with concerns about a business can contact the council's coronavirus enforcement team via portsmouth.gov.uk/coronavirussecurityreporting.