Businesses were rated Covid secure without being inspected
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Stevenage businesses have been deemed “compliant” with coronavirus safety rules without being inspected.
Data obtained by the Herts Comet revealed that 77 per cent of local businesses “spot-checked” by the national Health and Safety Executive (HSE) were only checked by telephone, not a site visit.
Stevenage’s lead councillor for health has voiced concern, saying the system of telephone checks is open to abuse and means the HSE had to take businesses’ word for it.
Between June and August, the HSE recorded nine spot-checks on Stevenage workplaces.
But figures released to the Comet under Freedom of Information laws show that seven out of nine only received “remote” checks, meaning the companies were telephoned and asked questions.
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Jeannette Thomas, Stevenage Council’s executive member for health, said: “It does seem to be daft that they are taking everybody’s word for it. I mean, yes, a lot of the premises will have been Covid compliant – but I’m surprised that in Stevenage it’s 77 per cent. That seems incredibly high to me. Certainly, I would like to know why 77 per cent have been done by phone.”
Council leader Sharon Taylor said the figures demonstrated why the response to the Covid-19 was better entrusted to local councils.
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She said: “We have been arguing since the start of the crisis that as local authorities, we have great contact on the ground with businesses. We have direct contact with them.
“A lot of the work where government has tried to do it centrally, we have been much more effective at delivering it at a local level.
“We have got a fantastic team at Stevenage who work closely with businesses. This is routine stuff for us. We do it all the time. We know our businesses.”
A HSE spokesperson said the telephone calls were made by “specially trained operators, who follow a set of questions compiled by HSE experts on Covid compliance.”
The body said it would make sure standards were being met by “visiting a number of the businesses who have told us they have all the right measures in place. This ensures what we are being told is happening in practice.”
It added: “Where businesses fail to comply, this could lead to prosecution.”