Councils could pay for smoking spies’ in pubs

UNDERCOVER council officers could soon be deployed to bars, restaurants and other public buildings to spy on smokers once the new smoking ban comes into effect. The ban begins on July 1 and the Government will distribute over £150,000 between three counci

UNDERCOVER council officers could soon be deployed to bars, restaurants and other public buildings to spy on smokers once the new smoking ban comes into effect.

The ban begins on July 1 and the Government will distribute over £150,000 between three councils in Comet country to implement the new legislation.

Council officers could enter premises undercover, sit among drinkers and diners, and hand out on-the-spot fines of £50 to individuals for flouting the ban. They would also be able to take premises to court.

Stevenage Borough Council will receive over £42,000, Mid Bedfordshire District Council will get over £62,000, though this has to be rubber stamped at a full council meeting on March 1, and North Hertfordshire District Council will receive £48,000.

The funding has been allocated to each council to cover a period of two years.

A spokesman for Stevenage Borough Council did not deny that the council might be sending officers undercover.

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"We cannot rule anything out at the moment," the spokesman said.

It would not be the first time the council has resorted to spying on its constituents, having admitted to keeping residents "under surveillance" in April last year during an argument about bin bags being piled up in its streets.

The spokesman continued: "We will be responsible for the enforcement of the smoke-free legislation in all businesses in the district, approximately 2,500.

"Most of the funding will go towards recruiting an apprentice to work in a health promotion role."

Speaking on behalf of Mid Bedfordshire District Council, a spokesman said 30 council enforcement officers will be trained and authorised to undertake an enforcement role.

"Mid Beds will be working with local businesses leading up to the July deadline to help them implement the legislation," the spokesman said.

The money will also be used to create a database of all premises covered by the ban and for the recruitment of one officer to assist and to raise awareness of the new legislation.

A spokesman for North Herts District Council said the funding will cover the costs of training, publicity and enforcement.

The spokesman said: "It is not envisaged that NHDC will take on any permanent new staff but it will recruit some temporary staff closer to the implementation date to advise businesses concerning their new statutory responsibilities.

"We will be training four key enforcement officers and also a number of others who go into public premises, for example environmental health officers will receive training to the appropriate level.