Councillors have warned that planned statutory counterterrorism requirements could create unmanageable burdens for some community venues, forcing them to close their doors.
Home Office officials outlined the implications for councils of a proposed “protect duty” at a recent meeting of the Local Government Association’s safer and stronger communities board.
The government is currently consulting on the plans, which would apply to owners or operators of venues with a capacity of 100 or more, as well as large organisations and public spaces.
The consultation proposes that relevant organisations should implement “reasonably practicable” measures to ensure security, such as staff training and planning for a potential attack. It also says an inspection regime is likely to be required.
Bridget Smith (Lib Dem), the leader of South Cambridgeshire DC, said she had “grave, grave concern” about possible unintended consequences of the duty.
Cllr Smith said there was “no way” that the “very small handful of volunteers” that ran a community centre in her village with a capacity of 300-400 people, “will be able to take on this sort of responsibility”.
“As a council, we can’t be rocking up to every local play that goes on, every charitable event and so on,” she added. “It just won’t work, I’m afraid.”
Cllr Smith added: “Please, let's not forget that we've got hundreds and hundreds of community buildings, run by volunteers. And actually, this sort of thing could just make them shut up shop.”
Kate Haigh (Lab), mayor of Gloucester City Council, said that the plans would create an “additional burden” for local authorities, asking: “How are we looking to fund and support that?”
Cllr Haigh said she was concerned about the impact on one-off outdoor temporary events such as church fetes, melas or community fun days. She said it was important that requirements were “light touch enough to allow these events to take place” as well as ensuring that people are safe when they attend them. Eric Allen (Con) of Sutton LBC said that his borough often hosted temporary outdoor events such as circuses, music in parks and outdoor cinemas. “There are so many events, this is going to create a considerable burden on local services, and we just need some more guidelines,” he said.
Hannah Dalton (Ind) of Epsom & Ewell BC said: “Whilst I can understand wanting to do this, it does strike me to be rather like the Modern Slavery Act, which is putting the responsibility for this down to other people”.
She said it would be a “real shame” if the planned measures stopped community events, “especially after the last year”.
Cllr Dalton added: “I understand the bigger picture. I just think that there's a wider question around funding that perhaps isn't being taken into consideration with what is being proposed”.
Debbie Bartlett, deputy director for Protect and Prepare at the Home Office, said the department was aware of concerns regarding smaller venues. She said: “We want this to be proportionate. So what works for the O2 will not work for your community centre”. She said that for many smaller owners and operators, expected measures would focus on “awareness, staff training and vigilance”, while larger venues could be expected to use technology. Regarding enforcing the duty, she said: “The key for us is to change the culture in this space. So from the beginning, we would expect any inspection and enforcement regime to be as much about education as actually penalising people”.
She added that there could be “fines to follow up for repeat offenders”. Ms Bartlett acknowledged: “This is a big change. And with this big change, we need to provide a lot more support”.
She urged councils to respond to the consultation, saying: “We really want to hear about these issues and challenges, so we can address them.”
Copyright: JONATHAN KNOTT - Local Government Chronicle 2021