The Community Environmental Health and Trading Standards Manager presented an information report that outlined officer’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Members were informed that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care had subsequently issued urgent regulations providing powers to limit onward transmission of the virus; this included the statutory closure of specified businesses, which included social venues such as pubs, clubs and theatres. The regulations identified those businesses that had to close, mainly those that attracted crowds or where there was likely to be close person to person contact. It also identified a range of businesses deemed essential that could remain open.
The first phase of response from the Community Environmental Health Team was to make proactive checks that businesses were closed. Officers were tasked to undertake proactive patrols at reasonable times to check that businesses were closed. Formal checks were not recorded for every property that was noted to be compliant and closed, but over 2,200 visits were made to businesses county wide.
The level of compliance was found to be generally excellent, with only 7 Prohibition Notices and 30 written warnings being required for non-compliant businesses across the County. These checks were supplemented with work of the Licensing Team who carried out spot checks on 550 pubs and clubs during the Easter Bank Holiday weekend to ensure that businesses were not still trading. Further proactive checks were made by the Community Environmental Health Team over the Spring Bank holiday.
Licensing Officers were in regular liaison with the taxi trade from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, as detailed on page 10 of the main agenda report.
TENs submission had significantly reduced due to the restrictions on public gatherings.
The teams had also worked with Economic Development and Town Centre management teams, as detailed on page 11 of the main agenda report.
Things had continued to move at a pace, so WRS officers were regularly updating the WRS website and had also provided webinars for businesses. Officers were also providing advice visits and support for the re-opening phase, following government guidelines and regulations.
Moving forward, as the focus moved towards businesses re-opening, pro-active patrols were taking place in the various centres in order to assist businesses to re-open and to ensure they were safe and healthy places to visit.
Although it was still early days, officers were finding a high level of compliance and businesses had commented that it was nice to see a friendly face giving them advice and encouragement.
The next phase would be to contact pubs, the beauty sector and other business types, which currently remained closed.
As part of the management process, WRS officers were also engaged in Covid-19 outbreaks and various settings, plus local outbreaks with public health which seemed the key mechanism for controlling the virus going forward.
Resourcing the outbreak, management arrangements were likely to take four Environmental Health practitioners out of the service area for a long period of time and WRS were committing significant resources to supporting the re-opening of high streets and providing advice and support to businesses as closures are lifted. Officers roles had already been reconfigured in the service to meet Covid-19 and statutory responsibilities.
Whilst delivering non service priorities, officers continued to be as flexible as possible. As Members will appreciate, these demands are significant and senior officers will liaise with partners to scope the possibility of some of the governments Covid-19 response money being invested into regulatory services, to enable WRS to deliver the response at the level partners required, whilst also providing those activities that WRS would normally deliver.
Councillor Kent, BDC, queried if Members and officers were aware of his recent proposal to Worcestershire County Council, which County Members had accepted; with regard to allowing shops to operate more easily by using appropriate pavement space outside of their premises. He had wanted to raise awareness of his proposal.
In response, the Head of Regulatory Services informed the Board that, the Worcestershire Chief Executives Group had asked that a group was established as a liaison point for those statutory bodies involved in re-opening the town/ city centres. The Trading Liaison Group was formed by the Head of Service on this instruction, being an officer led group (involving WRS officers, local policing, town and city centre management from across the County, along with Worcestershire County Council, Highways Officers); that could provide support to all services that were involved in the re-opening of the town centres and as part of this to help businesses implement the use of their space immediately outside of their businesses if they chose to.
Making pavements safe to use, so that businesses could make the best use of any space available to them outside of their premises; whilst also ensuring it did not inconvenience members of the public or create any issues with social distancing measures that needed to be maintained outside of their business. Both district and county councils needed to work together on this particular aspect, which was what they were trying to achieve, via the Trading Liaison Group which met every Friday.
Councillor E. Stokes, Wychavon District Council took the opportunity to express her sincere thanks to the Community Environmental Health and Trading Standards Manager, for providing such a detailed report and for his rapid response to the individual queries she had raised with him.
In response to Councillor Stokes, with regard to WRS bidding for some of the governments Covid-19 money being allocated to district councils, the Head of Regulatory Services, explained that he had spoken with partner authorities Chief Executives and had prepared a report, which had highlighted that the money would be used to support the safe re-opening of the high streets.
Councillor J. Squires, Worcester City Council also expressed her sincere thanks to WRS. It was a pretty intensive time for officers as far as Worcester City were concerned, every week at their leadership meetings they were hearing about the work that WRS were doing as part of the Covid-19 response. WRS were absolutely key to what we had been able to achieve over the past three months. They were also key to enabling businesses to safely re-open over the coming months.
Councillor Squires also took the opportunity to thank officers for the individual advice they had provided on behalf of a local charity that she was involved with.
The Chairman reiterated Members thanks and stated that WRS had been amazing during the Covid-19 response, which was on top of the recent flooding, so it had been a difficult year for WRS.
RESOLVED that the Covid-19 Response information report be noted, be noted, and that Members use the contents of the report in their own reporting back to fellow Members of the partner authorities.