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Published on 20 July 2021
Archived on 20 August 2021
Stratford District Council's Environmental Health and Licensing department was ultimately responsible for enforcing COVID compliance in the district during the pandemic - and prioritised advising businesses on how to improve rather than punishing them for mistakes.
The department was also instrumental in getting food parcels out to vulnerable people in the district.
Paul Reid, Environmental Health and Licensing Team Manager at Stratford District Council, explains how strong relationships with businesses and working with other agencies led to success.
"Our department is responsible for health and safety in some commercial premises in the district, but when the pandemic came along, we had to step up our dialogue with all businesses to make sure they were following the rules and keeping themselves and the public safe.
"However, this was not made easy due to the constantly changing coronavirus legislation that the government had set out.
"One of the first tasks we had was to interpret the legislation. We had meetings with the four other district and borough councils in Warwickshire, as well as Warwickshire County Council (WCC), Public Health England (PHE) and Warwickshire Police to make sure we were all consistent in our approach.
"Once we had come to a consensus, our main role was to approach and visit businesses to see if they were following the rules as best as they could and give them advice if they needed it. However, in the later months this work has been undertaken by the central team at WCC.
"Even before the pandemic, we would consider all available options in line with our enforcement policy, prior to taking formal enforcement action. We would rather build relationships with businesses and offer advice and guidance to help them rather than punish them.
"This attitude continued during the pandemic, and the previous relationships we had forged with businesses over the years meant that the vast majority were happy to comply with the new regulations.
"There were a few that found compliance more challenging than others, especially those who relied on agency workers who would move from site to site. Even under these circumstances we were able to give good advice on how they could improve their work environment and practices to keep their staff safe.
"Confidence in management plays a large part in compliance with legislation and if we are confident that businesses are being managed well, then this usually results in any problems that are identified being rectified quickly.
"As time went on, the rules often changed, which meant we constantly had to get a grip of the new legislation, come up with a consensus on how to interpret the legislation, and help businesses follow the guidelines.
"We looked at ways that we could support local business and the public during these difficult times. To that end some licenses were permitted for shorter periods at a reduced cost and with a quicker turnaround time, some licensing conditions were suspended for short periods and we facilitated pavement licenses. In challenging times, we have to adapt and take a sensible and pragmatic approach to allow life to continue in the safest way possible.
"Another key part of our work was setting up the delivery of food parcels for vulnerable people at the start of the crisis. Led by Robert Weeks, our Shielding Hub was set up in late March 2020 to deliver essential supplies and provide telephone support to those who were advised to shield from the virus.
"Many people from across SDC helped the Hub out, including our pest control officers. The Food Hub had to operate with military precision to co-ordinate receiving bulk food deliveries from WCC and then delivering these across the whole of our district. The whole team and the reserves we called on from time to time did an excellent job.
"The hard work of everyone involved meant we delivered more than 1,300 parcels to people who needed them in the first three months of the pandemic. This was a fantastic achievement and SDC reacted swiftly and promptly to the needs of our community.
"Overall, the pandemic was, and still is, a challenge for my staff in Environmental Health and Licensing and SDC generally. In every crisis you can extract some positives and then improve levels of communication and co-operation with all of our partners in other Warwickshire districts and boroughs, WCC, PHE and Warwickshire Police which has been the key to a consistent approach to the epidemic, which has resulted in businesses complying with the rules and we can be proud of the part we played in that.
"Now, our focus is on gradually shifting back to normality, such as increasing our food hygiene inspections and ensuring venues fulfil the terms of their licences, and adhere to the licensing objectives.
"And even though everything appears to be going back to normal on July 19th the coronavirus will be with us for some time to come and businesses will still need to manage their COVID risks through health and safety legislation.
"We're confident that businesses will continue to work with us to help Stratford District emerge strongly and safely out of the pandemic."
Stratford-on-Avon District Council
Elizabeth House, Church Street,
Tel: 01789 267575