Friday 11 June 2021 6:29 am

Exclusive: Government says return to the office is up to 'personal discretion' when restrictions ease

A government minister has told City A.M. it will be up to “personal discretion” whether businesses return to the office after 21 June, as it remains unclear if the ‘work from home’ message will be scrapped as originally planned.

Small business minister Paul Scully said that “personal discretion is the key thing” when it comes to returning to the workplace, adding, “whenever the work from home message ends, it will be down to what’s best for the business and the worker.”

Pressed on whether the government is on track for the 21 June deadline for easing coronavirus restrictions, Scully said there is “no clear answer”, and that the question of whether to scrap the ‘work from home message’ is still being reviewed by the Cabinet Office.

‘Down to the person’

But in the event it were scrapped, the message still seems unclear. “Even if it does fall away, I presume there will still be some people that choose to wear a mask and choose to socially distance,” Scully said. “It will be down to the person.”

According to recent reports, Whitehall officials were weighing up whether to keep the ‘work from home if you can’ guidance beyond the 21 June, to compensate for other Covid restrictions lifting.

New variants have complicated the government roadmap out of lockdown, with the Delta variant and its Nepalese sub-variant understood to be more transmissable.

Health secretary Matt Hancock told the Commons on Tuesday that the government still lacked the data on whether the vaccine was effective at preventing hospitalisations and death in people who catch the Delta variant of the virus – and that it would take a “couple of weeks.”

This could mean ministers will err on the side of caution when they’re due to make a final decision about the next steps of reopening on 14 June.

The news comes after City A.M. revealed that ministers will not take a hardline approach to get people back into the office, unlike last year when Number 10 briefed media outlets that workers could be sacked if they continue to work from home.

Small business minister Paul Scully was optimistic that London would “bounce back quicker than most areas in the UK,” but that this would be reliant on “a safe and warm welcome back to the City” over the summer.

Some City of London firms are slowly beginning to bring people back into the office, despite the government’s ongoing advice to work from home if possible. Footfall, however, remains well below pre-pandemic levels.

‘No plan yet’ for Webber-type rebellion

On the other end of the spectrum, theatre entrepreneur Andrew Lloyd-Webber has said he is willing to get arrested and will reopen his London shows later this month, regardless of whether the government goes ahead with so-called ‘freedom day’.

Likewise, City A.M. revealed that some UK nightclubs are considering reopening their doors on 21 June, even if the government pushes back the date for lifting lockdown restrictions.

But Scully said the government has made “no plan yet” for how to deal with such rebellions, saying the focus has been purely on collating data for next Monday’s decision.