Prime Minister Boris Johnson told a press conference on Wednesday the marshals would “boost the local enforcement capacity” as he announced new rules designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The plans come after new figures revealed almost 10,000 people tested positive for the virus in the last week of August in the UK's biggest jump since May.
But the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said the marshals will not be given enforcement powers in new legislation banning people in England from meeting in groups of more than six from Monday.
Other local authorities will now be “encouraged” to hire marshals, or use volunteers and existing council employees, with money from their own budgets, a MHCLG spokeswoman told the PA news agency on Thursday.
She said they would most likely wear high-visibility clothing to “support members of the public in one-way systems and remind them of guidelines”.
Other tasks could be to “give out masks and hand sanitiser in public places,” she added.
Ken Marsh, chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said rank-and-file officers have been left “absolutely baffled” by the announcement.
He told PA: “Any help is good help but what I’d like to understand is what actually is their role, what are we asking them to do?
“Because if they don’t actually have any powers, you know what Joe Public will do very quickly. When the stick needs to be wielded then you need to have the ability to wield it.
“Are they for parks, are they for enclosed areas? I just don’t know, no-one knows.
“The Prime Minister told everyone yesterday as if we all fully understood it.”
He added: “It won’t make any difference to enforcement if you don’t have the ability to enforce.
“If this increases the ability to enforce then it helps with enforcement, but if they don’t have any powers to issue tickets to enforce.”
Nesil Caliskan, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA’s) Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said: “We need to quickly see further detail on how the Government’s Covid-19-secure marshal scheme is intended to work, and any new responsibilities for councils in this area will have to be fully funded.”
An MHCLG spokeswoman added: “We are encouraging the introduction of Covid-secure marshals to help support our high streets and public spaces, making sure that people feel safe to enjoy them.
“Some areas of the country have already introduced marshals to support the public in following the guidelines in a friendly way and we will be working with local authorities to see where else they are needed. We will be setting out further details in due course.”
Legislation set to replace the existing ban on gatherings of more than 30 people and current guidance on allowing two households to meet indoors is yet to be published.
People breaching the new restrictions could be fined £100, which will double with every subsequent offence up to £3,200