Matt Hancock threatens to shut down Leicester factories breaking Covid-19 rules

Tony Diver
·2-min read
The Health Secretary said action had already been taken in the city to make factories safe - Anadolu Agency
The Health Secretary said action had already been taken in the city to make factories safe - Anadolu Agency

The Government has "significant concerns" about clothing factories in Leicester opening behind closed doors and won't hesitate to shut them down if they break the rules, Matt Hancock has said.

The Health Secretary said the Government was monitoring concerns about employment practices at the factories, amid reports one paid its staff less than the minimum wage and not enforcing social distancing.

"We have the authority to shut down businesses if they don’t follow the guidance," he said. 

"We’re not just asking nicely."

The Health Secretary added businesses could face "very significant fines" if employment laws and Government workplace safety guidance were found to have been breached.

His comments come after Leicester was placed into a localised lockdown, with an infection rate three times higher than the next highest city in the UK.

Restaurants, cafes, bars and pubs in the city must remain closed, but can be open for takeaways.

People are also banned from staying overnight at another household, and those in the restricted area can no longer visit people in private gardens or indoors, and could face fines if they flout rules.

It is thought that employment practices at some of Leicester’s 1500 garment manufacturers may be behind the spike in cases there.

The Sunday Times has reported allegations that workers in Leicester's Jaswal Fashions factory making clothes for Boohoo brand Nasty Gal were being paid as little as £3.50 an hour and operating without social distancing measures in place.

Nasty Gal said it would investigate the claims and has a “zero-tolerance” approach to modern slavery.

The findings have prompted an investigation by the National Crime Agency, with the allegations labelled "appalling" by Priti Patel, the Home Secretary.

On Friday, Leicestershire Police said they had carried out routine visits at nine workplaces in the city to ensure health and safety.

No closure orders were issued and no enforcement was used, the force said.

Detective Inspector Jenni Heggs added: "We are aware of recent reports in the media of factories in Leicester continuing their operational work despite being in a period of lockdown.

"We have been working with partners sharing information to carry out these visits which we will continue to do going forward."

But asked on Sunday whether any factories had already been closed, Mr Hancock said: “Yes and that has happened. 

“Absolutely. Normally it's happened in consultation with and working with the employer with the business in question, but we do have that power, absolutely."