City centre business groups have called for the government to have more urgency in encouraging commuters back to offices after figures revealed low attendance numbers at government departments.
There was a daily average of only one third of staff back at their desks at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), in numbers published on Tuesday.
Hospitality chiefs said Whitehall should show confidence in returning to work, after the paltry attendance figures were published.
“Without doubt the Government should be leading by example,” Michael Kill, Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) boss told City.AM.
“Hospitality has been hugely affected by working behaviours, with many businesses still allowing workforce to work from home, which has had a devastating impact on daytime and midweek business trade particularly in cities,” he added.
Both government and businesses should be doing “everything possible,” to encourage workers back to their desks, Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said.
“Strong, vibrant city and town centres” were needed for a strong economic recovery, she added.
“We also passionately believe that strong cultures and successful businesses are not built over video calls, and with colleagues isolated. Those not embracing a return to shared working environments are missing a significant opportunity,” Nicholls added.
Bosses said they felt the government had a false impression the sector was back to business as usual – but one hospitality leader said it could take up to three years for venues to return to pre-pandemic levels.
“The bigger the city centre, the harder it will be to recover,” Greater Manchester night tsar Sacha Lord added.
While some employees benefit from the flexibility of remote or hybrid working, “sadly that has a knock-on effect on sandwich shops or pubs for drinks after work,” Lord said. “They are the ones that are going to really suffer.”
However, flexible working was now the “new normal”, Lord added. “It’s a game of two halves,” he said, pointing to suburban areas that had benefited from daytime trade now that workers were shying away from the bigger centres.
A senior BEIS official said there were “no further plans” to increase office attendance from a mandatory three days a week.
It comes as up to three quarters of staff are still working from home, according to The Telegraph newspaper.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, urged all secretaries of state “to issue a clear message to civil servants in your department to ensure a rapid return to the office.”
According to research from the Royal Economic Society, pubs, cafes and restaurants in city and town centres stand to lose £3bn of spending a year while office workers continue to work some days at home.