Takeaway premises told to improve controls following visits
Regulatory services officers are sending out a strong reminder to takeaways after a number of common issues have been identified across the county, following visits to check for compliance.
Takeaways can still operate as part of this lockdown but they must still be adhering to the rules of wearing masks, social distancing and closing their doors at 11pm for collection and delivery only. They can continue to operate after 11pm through deliveries or customers can collect meals but they cannot cross the threshold of the premises.
Officers from Worcestershire Regulatory Services are continuing to make weekend checks on the hospitality trades, ensuring those businesses continuing to offer services are compliant. This message follows on from two weekends of visits undertaken by Environmental Health and Licensing Officers, in some cases with West Mercia Police, across the County.
Councillor Helen Dyke, Chair of the Worcestershire Regulatory Services Partnership Board, said: "The first thing to say is that the vast majority of the businesses our team deal with are working hard to keep the public and their employees safe. However, recent visits have taken place to businesses we've not engaged with for some time and there have been issues in a limited number who are letting others in the sector down.
"Mask wearing by members of staff and controls on numbers of people waiting inside to collect orders has been an issue, as has warning signage in some places. It is important that those in charge of these premises make sure these controls are in place.
"Delivery drivers working for takeaway businesses were also identified on several occasions walking into premises without a mask on and then into the kitchen areas. Given these people are taking food to people's houses, its vitally important that these staff members are aware of how to work safely.
"We appreciate how hard it is for the business community currently, but getting these things right, is essential in our efforts to bring down the number of cases in the county."
At this stage, officers are issuing warnings but if these are not heeded, Councils will have no option but to move to Fixed Penalty Notices and to Court action if that does not bring people to compliance. Fines for businesses start at £1,000 and local authorities are clear that they will issue these if warnings are not heeded and problems continue.
- Over the weekends of 15 / 16 January and 22 / 23 January officers visited premises across much of the county. Checks were made in Worcester, Redditch, Rubery, Alvechurch, Hagley, Bromsgrove, Droitwich, Evesham and many of the villages in Wychavon. Many pubs were closed and not operating. The majority of takeaway premises were open and some 30 warning letters have been issued over these two weekends.
- Failure by staff to wear masks in serving areas was the commonest failing. Also, businesses were not taking the steps officers would have liked to control numbers inside the outlets waiting to collect food. Some premises also lacked any kind of warning signage and reminders for members of the public coming onto premises to collect orders.
- Intelligence from complaints and public health data is used to direct these visits. This helps to focus the officer resource into areas where there are higher case numbers. Many of the businesses visited over these two weekends had not been visited in the recent past, so warnings have been issued in the first instance. However, continued failings will be addressed with fixed penalty notices and potentially prosecution as such breaches are criminal offences.
- Local authorities are empowered to issue these under the various business restrictions in the regulations that the government has brought in to shape the behaviour of businesses. Local authorities are not authorised to issue notices in relation to illegal gatherings, this falls only to the Police. As with the other fixed penalty notices, there is a sliding scale depending on whether fines have been issued previously. Generally, the first fine for breach of a business restriction would be £1,000, the second £2,000; the third £4,000 and then £10,000 for any fine beyond this. If a matter is remitted to Magistrates Court instead, they have the ability to impose an unlimited fine if the offence is proved and the defendant found guilty.
- Worcestershire Regulatory Services would normally work with businesses to help them to achieve compliance unless there were serious risks created by a particular activity. Given the situation with case numbers across the county and the need to maintain control of the pandemic, with these situations now, the service will have to escalate post-warning to more formal action. This isn't something that is done lightly. WRS officers work closely with many businesses across Worcestershire and understand how hard it has been for so many of them. However, with the majority of businesses doing the right thing, it's important that everyone makes the necessary efforts to keep staff and the public safe.