Hello, I hope you and your families are well. I thought it may be helpful to give you a report on what has been happening in Barking and Dagenham regarding enforcement and safety since lockdown.
The Covid-19 crisis brought about an array of unforeseen challenges for the Council. We rose to the occasion, assisted by fantastic work from the voluntary sector and faith groups who helped us set up the Barking & Dagenham Community Alliance Network. I was proud to volunteer alongside Borough residents to help the vulnerable and those in need of additional support in these difficult times.
With clear signs we were experiencing a pandemic and no Government guidance in sight, queues began forming at shops and immediately overcharging became an issue. The Council quickly responded to mitigate this by setting up an e-mail address for residents to report businesses taking advantage of the panic caused by the pandemic. Once we received a report, trading standards and enforcement officers would investigate and take action where necessary to protect residents from exploitative business practices.
The Government introduced guidance about social distancing and failure to comply with these guidelines quickly became a problem. As this is a matter of public health and safety, the Council made sure to rigorously uphold and enforce social distancing measures. Members of the public contacted the Council or me directly to report non-essential businesses which remained open or were not adhering to social distancing practices. We were pleased to see the majority of businesses were following government advice and our team regularly went out to investigate any reports of businesses breaking the rules.
High volumes of people exercising in parks was also a problem following lockdown. We received reports of people using public outdoor gym equipment and playing organised games, both of which were prohibited under lockdown, alongside generally failing to social distance. When another London Borough received similar reports they closed their parks, which put us under pressure to do the same. As a Labour Council we refused, as we felt it was right to keep the many countty parks and green spaces open. These areas are the lungs of the Borough and many of our residents live in flats without access to a garden or green space, making these areas vital to the physical and mental well-being of these residents.
Unfortunately, I believe the Government failed to provide police with adequate enforcement powers, such as allowing the police to issue tickets for breaching lockdown guidance. The Government once again raised public expectation and failed to deliver a clear direction or solid plan for dealing with those ignoring lockdown rules. This led to a rising feeling amongst members of the public that their concerns were not being heard or responded to. Ideally our Council would have been issued powers to enforce lockdown measures more strictly to fully address the concerns of the public.
However, despite this lack of leadership from the Government, everything we did during the pandemic was received with great appreciation from the public. Our community believes that it is important we look out for one another and all play our part in keeping each other safe. We all have a responsibility to look after one another in these unprecedented circumstances, and should someone turn their back on this responsibility we as a Council will continue to investigate and seek sanctions against such individuals. Barking and Dagenham Council have been the top council for issuing enforcement notices during the pandemic. While we first try to gain compliance via advice and guidance we will not hesitate to issue a notice if businesses and individuals continue to endanger our community.
As the pandemic sadly claimed many lives, clear communication and regular updates from the Council was vital. The Leader of the Council, Councillor Darren Rodwell, gave daily broadcasts on issues affecting the public such as testing, hospital stats and the Council’s response. As a Cabinet Member I was involved in the response to Covid-19, attending regular meetings during which Council Officers would give updates from the local and national Gold Meetings. These Gold Meetings involve senior members of multiple departments collaborating to find solutions to issues that arise in times of crisis.
During the time we were all clapping for the key workers who kept us safe, I was contacted by the owner of Santa Brava in Rainham Road South. The generous owner, along with the Portuguese community in the area, came together to provide meals and provisions for the workers in Queens Hospital. I was fortunate to be asked to join these vital key workers alongside the Deputy Leader, Councillor Ashraf. It was a very moving event and is proof of how great our Barking and Dagenham community is. Artwork was also put up as a heart-felt tribute in the Trades Hall in Dagenham to say thank you to those working on the front line. This demonstrates that the Labour Party in the Borough are an integral part of the community who are in touch with the lives of our constituents.
Barking and Dagenham Enforcement are currently undergoing a restructure. My plan is to have a team that deal with the issues that no one seems to take responsibility for: aggressive begging, fly tipping, street drinking, to name a few. We as a Labour Council make it our priority to provide support to those who are struggling, but there are some areas in the town centre where these issues have led to people feeling uncomfortable or unsafe. Our plan is to enlist former Armed Services personnel to take a front-line role in resolving these problems. There is a great respect for the Armed Forces in our community and it is our hope that they will be able to provide a compassionate but firm response to these challenges.
On a final note, I would like to thank all staff publicly for their efforts – it is greatly appreciated. Our work of enforcement goes on and I will keep everyone updated on our progress in ensuring our community remains safe and supported.
Stay safe. Margaret
Cllr Margaret Mullane – CLP Secretary, Village Ward Councillor and LBBD Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety