The LGA, which represents more than 330 councils across England and Wales, has suggested the introduction of a temporary public health or Covid-19 objective in the Licensing Act to empower councils to take action where premises, such as pubs, are not seen to be protecting the public.
While current guidance states that licensed premises should voluntarily impose measures such as collecting people’s contact details or maintaining social distancing, the LGA believes they should be mandatory and legally enforceable through the Licensing Act.
Though councils have been recently entrusted with powers to close premises where there is already a serious and imminent risk to public health, the LGA believes these should stretch further as licensing laws do not allow councils to act on public health grounds, for example where the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines are not being followed.
Tackling the risk of infection
The body says sanctions such as requiring a business to apply new conditions to operate safely, or in the worst cases revoking a licence would be better suited to tackling the risk of infection spreading.
Calls to arm local authorities with extra powers come after Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on 7 August that the collection of customer data will become mandatory in all pubs and restaurants across Scotland to avoid further coronavirus outbreaks.
This follows the city-wide shutdown of pubs and restaurants in Aberdeen at 5pm on Wednesday 5 August after a cluster of 54 cases was reported – a measure the operator of Orchid, a venue on the Top 50 Cocktail Bars list, described as “disheartening and gutting”.
The LGA’s statement also comes after the imposition of stricter lockdown measures on parts of England including West Yorkshire, East Lancashire and Greater Manchester – where Mayor Andy Burnham said that pubs failing to enforce Covid-secure measures will be targeted by “mystery shoppers” to ensure they are protecting public health.
“The vast majority of businesses are implementing the necessary measures to protect people’s safety, and councils are working hard to support premises in these efforts,” councillor Nesil Caliskan, chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, explained.
Guidelines not being followed
“However, some councils are beginning to see isolated cases where the guidelines are not being followed and they are limited in what they can do to stop it," Caliskan continued.
“This is clearly a danger to communities, putting people at risk of infection.
“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.
“It does not take long for this virus to spread if allowed. 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.”