Skip to content

What next for the city's Covid marshals?

The future of Covid marshals in Peterborough is under review, with a possible extension from August.
2020review 40
The familiar sight of Covid marshals

The marshals were introduced across England in autumn, with the aim of advising and supporting members of the public and businesses with regards to social distancing rules. The aim was to take some of the burden away from police and council officers.

While well-meaning, the roles  - funded by £30m of government money given to councils - were hamstrung by a lack of enforcement powers, with more of a guidance remit.

In November in Peterborough the number of marshals tripled to 30, comprising 20 agency and 10 redeployed council staff, who were deployed in areas where the virus was most prevalent.

While Peterborough was previously in the top 10 for case rates, now numbers in the city are now far below the average - albeit rising - giving the council a decision to make next month. 

Rob Hill, assistant director for community safety said; "Peterborough City Council are continuing to employ agency marshals to promote and support COVID safety across Peterborough. 

"Whilst lockdown restrictions are ending on July 19, the pandemic has not gone away.  Therefore, there is an ongoing need to provide guidance, reassurance, and support to our communities, particularly given the rising case numbers in our city. 

"The council marshal contract is in place until the end of August, and a further review is underway to assess if an extension may be necessary beyond that."

Since being introduced last year the roles have been controversial, with many questioning their effectiveness in dealing with social distancing breaches.

These frustrations have been shared by the marshals themselves; Peterborough Matters took a tour of Millfield/Lincoln Road in March, with some marshals admitting they had been spat at and verbally abused as they did their job.

One said at the time: "I wish we could make a bigger difference, because some people don't listen - we give them advice, but if we had the authority to give a formal warning they would listen more.

"When I started I was writing up to 15 reports a day, but now it's maybe seven, so it is improving. More people are wearing masks now.

"When there are massive groups of people they don't listen; one or two you might be able to convince, but hundreds you can't."

Since their introduction readers sent in photographs of marshals themselves not socially distancing, or not wearing masks.

In other areas councils are weighing up what to do with the roles.

In Great Yarmouth the borough council is considering redeploying its marshals as ambassadors for the town, providing general advice and guidance to the public.

While in Bristol the marshals are deemed even more necessary, inspecting 200 businesses in a week as infection rates rise in the hospitality sector.