NATIONAL chain stores, local shops and several car washes are among the businesses to have been issued with written warnings during the second Covid lockdown.

But council officials say they were powerless to enforce government guidance that told big stores to close off departments devoted to non-essential goods.

With lockdown ending today, some independent retailers fear they may never make up for the trade they missed while other stores were allowed to stay open.

Dorset Council said of its enforcement: “There have been some instances where businesses have been resistant initially and in 13 cases warnings have been given in writing. Three are national retailers, two local retailers, a pub and seven car washes.

“No formal action has been necessary, in terms of fixed penalty notices, prohibition notices or initiating prosecutions by Dorset Council.”

It said its approach had been to offer guidance and “engage” with businesses where possible.

BCP Council carried out a crackdown early in the November closure, issuing fines to Boscombe cafe Le Munch and Poole shop Happy Buddha.

A statement from cabinet member Cllr May Haines said: “We have found that there is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding among businesses and the public about what is permitted and what is prohibited during lockdown and so it’s important our officers are out and about working closely with businesses offering advice and guidance.”

She said council advice had been well-received “on the whole” but added: “We can confirm that two further prohibition notices have been served against two separate businesses and these were both car washes.”

Some retailers were incensed that supermarkets, homeware stores and garden centres were allowed to continue selling non-essential goods. Government guidance said distinct areas devoted to non-essential goods should be blocked off, leading stores such as Tesco to close departments on separate floors.

But Dorset Council said: “The law does not require any areas to be closed off in these larger premises. Government guidance was published which asked mixed retail businesses to consider if they could close off distinct parts where there were separate buildings or floors.

“Relevant businesses have made their own decisions and that aspect of guidance would not in our view be enforceable using the existing regulations on business closure.”

BCP Council could not say whether it agreed the guidance was unenforceable.

Tony Brown, chief executive of New Start 2020, which runs Beales in Poole, said he was concerned for smaller shops.

In a letter to BCP Council, he said: “I would not underestimate the damage to Christmas sales that will have been caused to local and independent retail by allowing non-essential retail to continue in these big stores, sucking up demand."