Posted: Sun 13th Sep 2020

Supermarkets warned to keep to pandemic regulations as councils get new powers to close premises

North Wales news and information
This article is old - Published: Sunday, Sep 13th, 2020

Improvement Notices have been served to some supermarkets in Wales over issues with a lack of social distancing, as Welsh Government hand councils more power to take quick local action.

Yesterday the First Minister Mark Drakeford announced extra powers for local councils to allow them to take more action, he said: “From Monday, we will give local authorities new powers to take action themselves to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Most people in Wales have worked hard and complied with the rules, but a small minority have not done so. These new powers which come into force on Monday, will allow local authorities to close premises or prevent events from happening on public health grounds. ”

One local council in Wales, Rhondda Cynon Taf,  have highlighted their inspection work, finding 7 out of 45 supermarket premises visited “were not adhering to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 which came into force on 10 August 2020, to control, minimise and prevent the risk of exposure to COVID-19”.

As a result that council issued seven Improvement Notices to a Tesco, Aldi, Morrisons, Lidl, Iceland and two Co-Op stores, and if there is no improvement they could face closure notices.

Although no such action has been taken locally that North.Wales is aware of against supermarkets, there have been ongoing complaints raised on social media over issues with social distancing in some supermarkets and reports of loosening of standards in recent weeks.

We asked First Minister about the issue and if Welsh Government should enforce the standards at such companies with outlets in multiple local authority areas. We noted that often councils are talking to lower level staff who can’t alter national chain policy. We also asked how fines of a few hundred pounds was any kind of penalty to such large entities.

The First Minister said: “We do set national rules that all those supermarkets are bound by.

“My colleague Lesley Griffiths MS meets almost every week with national representatives of the supermarkets in Wales, and most supermarkets have done a remarkable job and many of them continue to do so.

“But, we have too many examples of where in local areas, local arrangements are no longer at the level that we need to see to protect staff and customers from the risk of coronavirus.

“That’s why I am pleased to see those improvement notices being served. I think it brings home to the supermarkets the need for them to sustain the standards that they had in place earlier in the pandemic.

“I don’t think that the the incentive for supermarkets to do the right thing is in the few hundred pounds worth of fines. I think it’s in the reputational damage that is done to them where customers see in the window of a supermarket that an improvement notice has had to be served.

“I think it’s much more likely that people voting with their feet and going to places that are well managed and well run that will cause supermarkets to make sure that they are not the place where improvement notice is needed.”

An Improvement Notice on the door of a Lidl in South Wales. The small print notes “patrons were observed in store around the fridge and freezer areas not adhering to the 2 metre social distancing advice and staff did not appear to be monitoring this”

This week saw a petition launched by Conwy county councillor Aaron Wynne, who represents Crwst ward in Llanrwst, said he was “disappointed” there appeared to be “little effort” to protect staff and customers in some supermarkets.

Conwy county council said it would “continue to carry out inspections of premises”.

A spokeswoman said: “The issue of supermarkets and Covid-19 precautions has been raised nationally and we know the Welsh Local Government Association leader is writing to council leaders highlighting his local concerns and seeking views on the consistency of large supermarkets’ Covid precautions around social distancing, queuing and one-way systems, provision of hand sanitisers and PPE equipment for staff.

“The WLGA has also raised the issue with ministers who are supportive of authorities who are required to take any necessary enforcement action.”

Top picture: A Tesco store in North Wales – their Talbot Green store in Pontyclun, was subject to an Improvement Notice.

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