Monday 28 September 2020 5:00 am

As well as protecting jobs, the government must enable a safe return to the workplace

Fittingly, the weather has taken a turn for the worse over the last week just as the economic headwinds facing the UK risk turning into a perfect storm.

After many months of lockdown, the number of people returning to their City workplace had visibly started to pick up in recent weeks – particularly as schools reopened to ease the burden of childcare.

This progress will unfortunately now be reversed as businesses assess how to implement the government’s revised guidance on working from home where possible.

To be clear, the government is right to take action to try to bring Covid-19 infections under control. Public health must come first, but we want this advice to be regularly reviewed in light of the evidence. 

A huge amount of work has been done to deliver Covid-secure offices and restore fragile confidence in the public transport network. The City Corporation is also playing a part by prioritising space for pedestrians and cyclists in our transport response to enable social distancing across the Square Mile’s streets.

Of course there have been benefits of working from home for many businesses, but firms still want to make use of their central office hubs – whether it be for staff development, team morale, networking opportunities or much more – even as flexible ways of working are embedded.

We remain confident that the fundamental strengths of the City and London mean that they have a bright future after the pandemic passes. In fact, the capital’s overall attractiveness as a top investment destination has remained undiminished, with the first major poll of global investors since the start of the Covid-19 crisis showing that 99 per cent are still keen to invest in the city.

We cannot, however, afford to take the economic contribution of central London and other major city centres for granted.

In his address to the nation, the Prime Minister described the struggle against Covid-19 as the single biggest global crisis in his lifetime. It is an existential crisis for many businesses across the City, particularly SMEs reliant on footfall for income.

That is why we welcome the measures outlined by the chancellor last week to protect jobs and support businesses. Extraordinary action is needed to prevent a tsunami of job losses amid the damaging waves of Covid-19 and lockdown restrictions.

Alongside its economic response, however, we hope that the government will enable a safe, secure and flexible return to the workplace as soon as possible. Blanket guidance to work from home where possible risks stalling the capital’s recovery and damaging long-term competitiveness.

Getting employees back to the workplace safely is essential to foster innovation, support mental health and deliver the footfall desperately needed for the hospitality and retail sectors.

The virus is not going to go away quickly, so we need to find a way of living with it. Saving lives and protecting the NHS is paramount, but livelihoods matter too.

Hibernating through the winter is not an option for our economy.

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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