To consider the performance report for the service.
Regarding pandemic response, would you do anything differently next year from last year?
We are reflecting on our actions via Aneurin Bevan: the 6 Track and Trace teams are asking themselves about lessons learned, etc. We responded very well, the governance was set up very quickly and has gone well. We have fed back that announcements on a Friday afternoon aren’t particularly helpful to the front line as, often, the providers (e.g. schools) are on the backfoot trying to interpret the announcement before the end of the week. Another lesson learned is that it would be useful to co-produce some of the guidance with the frontline officers e.g. the Standard Operating Procedures, of which there have been a huge amount. There will be regional and national reports on lessons learned and what we would have done differently.
How many businesses or individuals did you prosecute in the last 12 months, and what was the outcome?
We took an approach that encouraged business users, rather than focussing on enforcement. Licencing did around 8 improvement notices e.g. for pub customers who were flouting the rules – we went with the designated Premises Supervisor and dealt with those complaints, then followed up with a visit to check that things have improved. In Monmouthshire, compliance has generally been very good. Gwent Police are happy to attend town centres on Saturday nights and address certain pubs, based on our advice. They will be out in force on Black Friday. Due to our focus on working with businesses rather than just on enforcement there have only been a handful of prosecutions.
Were there any prosecutions relating to hand sanitisers that weren’t up to standard?
Fortunately, no-one was manufacturing it in our area, other than a few breweries that diversified. We supported them with advice, to produce it correctly. Everything that wasn’t up to standard was collected and destroyed. The information and intelligence was then passed back to the home authority from which it had originated, for them to take action. We will provide members with the number of prosecutions that have resulted. For other PPE, it is again a business advice approach, working closely with HSE, who were taking the proactive approach to doing stop-checks. Monmouthshire businesses have listened to the advice and followed it. We have had 22 Improvement notices: 9 in Hospitality, 6 in Food Retail, 1 in non-Food Retail and 6 in close personal contact services, mainly barbers and hairdressers.
What effect will Covid passports have on the team’s performance?
We’ve been keen to encourage businesses to comply with passports. Again, compliance has generally been very good. There haven’t been issues with non-compliance relating to the PPE requirements. Passports will be very helpful for any upcoming events e.g. the Christmas meet at Chepstow Racecourse, with 8000+ people. The Police won’t do any enforcement on passports, so the onus goes back on the businesses, now including theatres and cinemas. If we do receive any reports on non-compliance, we will act on them accordingly.
Who’s going to look after Street Licensing in the future?
This is still being discussed. With the example of Cross Street in Abergavenny, grants were issued, and we have been working with Highways colleagues. We will have to get back to the committee with specifics on this matter.
Can we return to putting emphasis on to tackling the problem of flytipping, in the future?
We have had two successful prosecutions recently, which should send a strong message. We will certainly endeavour to return this subject to priority status. But it is difficult to catch the offenders, given the time and location of the offences, generally.
Track and Trace has been an excellent service. Did you organise all of it, or was it the health authority?
It is predominantly provided by MCC. We have contracted staff who work within our terms and conditions. We work with all community transmissions, which make up over 90%, while the health board deals with in-patients. We currently deal with around 80 cases per day. We have to work with schools to try to minimise the spread there. We will feed back that the service has been excellent.
Is the increase in pest control complaints related to serving food outside, or increased takeaways?
It is probably more to do with people being at home. Most of our complaints aren’t relating to businesses but are from members of the public. It is probably as simple as people working from home and seeing, say, a rat go through their garden, that they wouldn’t have seen if they were in the office. This compensates for the drop in numbers relating to food businesses: food waste reduced because December-March there was a complete lockdown, with no food businesses open. It tallies with the rise in noise complaints: these also went up as people spent so much more time at home.
Regarding air quality sensors in the four schools, the report mentions ‘data collected and the scope for this to be an important education tool’ – is that being taken forward?
We are keen to engage with schools on this, as it concerns live data. We targeted Monmouth and Chepstow as they have major trunk roads nearby. We see it as an educational tool – if someone is asthmatic, it would be useful to know if pollution is particularly bad on a given day, for example. It hasn’t happened yet because the schools have been so occupied with their Covid response.
What is the number or percentage of businesses that have been able to restart?
It’s around 10% of the 101 new businesses that opened in 2020/21. We are pushing for a licence process for food businesses, so someone can set up a food business following a redundancy, for example. It can be an onerous task for a food business to start from scratch, requiring a lot of advice from us. The number of businesses that have opened have increased since the report, so we now stand at over 170. We won’t know the full number that have closed until we have made visits.
Will there be a problem with dogs being abandoned when people go back to work fully?
This is certainly a concern and has been raised to Welsh Government by charities. We have the Stray Dog contract which could result in an increased number of stray dogs. From our perspective on the wider part of the project, Operation Scout recently raided a premise involved with organised crime in Carmarthen, which resulted in 240 dogs being taken. This raises the question of where they can be kept, and is something for us to consider, and that we have raised with Welsh Government. With the project, we are trying to make these links i.e. with the government task force, and put forward a model for Wales in which no puppy can be sold without some form of registration or licence. It might not be a commercial licence, but they would still need to register. Creating a central system for collating microchip data would also be very important.
Does MCC provide training for Food Hygiene certificates?
Our team does provide food hygiene training but with providing inspections and working through the backlog currently it hasn’t been a priority. We therefore won’t do it for a long time to come. There is another body within MCC that provides the training, and we hope to link with them.
The pandemic has placed a lot of significant additional pressure on the Public Protection Service, which was already stretched pre-pandemic, so this report has enabled us to draw an interesting comparison of their activity pre-pandemic and during the pandemic.
The Public Protection Service is wide-ranging, covering Environmental Health, Trading Standards, Animal Health and Licensing. We have heard how lockdowns led to a rise in environmental health complaints, ranging from noise and disturbance, flytipping and bonfires to dog fouling, due to more people being in their homes and also greater public visibility when these incidents occurred.
The teams have also had to deal with the normal day job, undertaking proactive visits to establishments to protect the public from poor hygiene as well as support businesses during the pandemic. We heard that there are particular resource issues in animal health due to a shortage of staff and additional work, such as the Dog Breeding programme, which is a partnership piece of work that Monmouthshire is leading upon.
Our scrutiny today has led us conclude that the Public Protection Service has performed incredibly well over the pandemic, particularly the Environmental Health Team which needed to establish a ‘24 hours a day, 7 days a week Track, Trace and Protect Team’, as well as deliver all their other responsibilities. We fully acknowledge that delivering this additional service has been very onerous.
We fully support you in raising these resource issues with the cabinet. We’d like to extend our thanks to you and all of your team for your important role, which you have carried out very effectively during unprecedented times. Thank you for presenting your report to us today.
Councillor Treharne requested that the licensing aspect of this report be taken to the Licensing committee.