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Councils issue £1m in penalties against businesses for breach of Covid restrictions

Local authorities have issued 1,201 penalties to businesses for violating Covid business restrictions, to a value of £1,076,820, research has revealed.

The Manifesto Club, a group that campaigns against the “hyper-regulation of public spaces”, said three London councils – Redbridge, Hounslow, and Newham – had issued more than £300,000 in fines between them. Newham issued 242 penalties and Redbridge issued 137. This included penalties for failing to prevent mingling, for violations of the rule of six, and for people dining in mixed-household groups.

The Manifesto Club said that, in addition, new Covid road closures starting in July 2020 led to 222,702 penalties by the end of 2020.

“These large numbers of penalties undermine local authorities’ role as supporting the public during this unprecedented health crisis,” it claimed.

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More information on the research can be found here.

The Manifesto Club said: “The traditional role of the modern local authority lay in the representation and improvement of the local area. Over the past 20 years, local authorities have moved to taking a more police-like role, issuing an increasing number of penalties, carrying out patrols, and issuing new legal orders.

“This trend has been furthered under Covid, with new powers and funding to issue legal orders and penalties, and a new patrolling role for covid marshals. Over time, local authorities have been increasingly released from legal and governmental checks on how powers are used.”

It also argued that the move into enforcement risked undermining the unique public role of the local authority, “blurring councils’ distinction from the police and taking them into areas of law-making and enforcement for which they are ill-equipped”.

The Manifesto Club further suggested that local authorities’ expanded enforcement was “lower in quality, lacking public legibility, due process, and proportionality, and also varies greatly from area to area”.

It called for this enforcement role to be limited to specific areas, and that enforcement be subject to greater legal and governmental controls to ensure that public legal powers, and the public funding used to finance them, are directed in the public interest.

Josie Appleton, Manifesto Club director and report author, said: “Government seems intent on piling more and more enforcement powers on local authorities, but these lack basic accountability. Government doesn’t even keep statistics on the use of these powers, let alone ensure that they are being used fairly. As well costing people money, penalisation can lead to criminal records that can affect employment and higher education opportunities. Instead of becoming second-rate police, councils should focus on their unique and important mission of improving local areas and representing the wishes of local people.”

The report was published alongside new research by Sheffield Hallam University criminologists, which found that councils were using different legal thresholds for issuing Community Protection Notices, and that there was a ‘postcode lottery’ on whether people received these orders or not.

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