Councils call for more power to shut non-Covid safe pubs and bars

Local councils want more powers to shut down pubs that fail to comply with social distancing guideline,s after images of crowded venues shared on social media sparked outrage.

Many areas are wary the forecast heatwave this weekend will see drinkers trying to cram themselves into bars and beer gardens to make the most of the weather.

Current guidance says licensed premises should take customer details and ensure they have infection control measures in place, but these are still voluntary.

Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK
Daily confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK

The Local Government Association (LGA) wants these guidelines to immediately be made mandatory, and wants local authorities to be given stronger powers to enforce them.

Currently local authorities have no specific powers to shut drinking establishments under the emergency Covid-19 regulations, and have to use the Health and Safety at Work Act to intervene.

The LGA, which represents councils in England and Wales, argues these laws are less specific and make it more difficult to take swift action.

It wants a temporary Covid-19 objective added to the Licensing Act, allowing councils to shut premises that fail to collect contact tracing data or enforce social distancing, or even revoke their licences.

Councils can use Covid-19 powers under the Health and Safety at Work Act to close pubs and bars, but only where there is already a “serious and imminent risk” to public health.

The LGA points out this only gives councils the power to shut venues linked to infections, or as it puts it, “once it is too late”.

Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “It needs to be mandatory for premises to follow this government safety guidance and councils need the right powers to intervene and take action if necessary.”

She added: “While councils do not want to have to shut anywhere down, business owners need to know that councils have the power to act if local communities are put at risk.”

On Friday, Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord said numerous premises had been trying to “squeeze” customers in despite the recent spike in cases in the area.

“These venues clearly have a disregard for the safety of both their customers and their staff, and I support our mayor, Andy Burnham, and Greater Manchester Police in taking action over repeat breaches in these venues,” he said.

Elsewhere, the landlord of the Crown and Anchor in Stone near Stoke-on-Trent was forced to apologise after a cluster of 22 cases was linked to his pub.

As a result of the spike, four other venues voluntarily closed their doors.

Crown and Anchor landlord Custodio Pinto said on Facebook: “I accept that I was simply not strong enough in enforcing the Government’s Covid-19 secure rules, despite detailed preparation according to their guidelines.

“I regret I was complacent in enforcing these rules with the customers.”

About 1,000 people were tested after health chiefs urged anyone who had worked at or visited the Crown and Anchor between July 16 and 18 to get checked. More than 60 contacts of those who tested positive were identified and are self-isolating for 14 days.

The Crown and Anchor will remain closed this weekend and will not be allowed to reopen until it can demonstrate that strict measures are in place to ensure good hygiene and social distancing, in line with national guidance, Staffordshire County Council said.