Business seeks clarity over return to work plans
By Rob Freeman | 11th May 2020
Calls for greater clarity and detail are the most common refrains from business leaders following government announcements outlining plans for the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the three-phase plan for England on Sunday, urging those who could not work from home to return to offices and factories.
Wales and Scotland have announced their own rules, with minimal changes from the original Stay Home advice, while Northern Ireland is expected to follow suit later this week.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has today explained that any changes will come into place on Wednesday, including the ability to visit people not in your own household as long as it is outside and observing social distancing of at least two metres.
More details will be revealed in a 50-page guidance document this afternoon when the Prime Minister is also due to address the House of Commons.
Punchline canvassed the reaction of the business community on the Prime Minister's announcement.
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general, Confederation of British Industries
"Today marks the first glimmer of light for our faltering economy. A phased and careful return to work is the only way to protect jobs and pay for future public services.
"Businesses are keen to open and get our economy back on its feet. But they also know putting health first is the only sustainable route to economic recovery. The message of continued vigilance is right.
"This announcement marks the start of a long process. While stopping work was necessarily fast and immediate, restarting will be slower and more complex.
"It must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. Firms will want to see a roadmap, with dates they can plan for.
"Success will rest on flexibility within a framework: clear guidance which firms can adapt for their particular circumstances.
"Financial support will also need to evolve for sectors moving at different speeds - some remaining in hibernation, while others get ready to open safely.
"The coming weeks should see business, government and employee representatives working together as part of a national effort built on openness and trust. This is the only way to revive the UK economy and protect both lives and livelihoods."
Sam Holliday, development manager for Gloucestershire, Federation of Small Businesses
"What we saw from the Prime Minister last night was a broad and interesting overview of where we are with the virus and a possible roadmap for the future.
"Perhaps inevitably, however, there was very little actual detail and as such you sense many small businesses are as confused this morning as they were before the statement.
"There are still so many unresolved issues around employment, furloughing, social distancing and what PPE we all may need if and when we return to work.
"I think it is now vital that the Prime Minister's report and statement to the House is focused on offering a clear and unambiguous way forward for employers and employees alike."
Ian Mean, Gloucestershire director, Business West
"Business will be very concerned about the lack of clarity in the rules for this return to work.
'Will it be too risky?' is the question that many employers and employees will be asking themselves over the coming few weeks.
"Boris Johnson readily admitted his television broadcast was simply the first sketch for a road map for re-opening of society. A sense of a way ahead.
It certainly was not the comprehensive road map out of the lockdown we had been expecting. As a result, business will want so much more clarity.
"This does not bode well for consensus in the UK at a time of national crisis. Boris must do his best to sort that out - this is no time for politicking with people's lives and the future of our economy.
"The Prime Minister says he believes Britain can come out of coronavirus stronger than ever before. That will only happen if business can be clear that there is a workable plan that is also safe for their employees."
Adam Marshall, director, British Chambers of Commerce
"Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, co-ordinated with all nations across the UK and supported by clear guidance.
"It is imperative that companies have detailed advice on what will need to change in the workplace, including clarity on the use of personal protective equipment.
"Firms will also need to know that government support schemes, which have helped save millions of jobs in recent weeks, will continue for as long as they are needed so that they can plan ahead with confidence.
"The timing of further easing of restrictions must be guided by the public health evidence, but businesses need their practical questions answered so they can plan to restart, rebuild and renew."
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association
"The industry was looking for a glimmer of hope... but it looks like we have more weeks of uncertainty ahead of us.
"With insufficient clarity as to when pubs will reopen, our sector remains in limbo and facing severe uncertainty and financial devastation.
"Government plans to keep pubs closed until the final phase of release would make pubs first in and last out of lockdown.
"We understand that pubs should only open when safe to do so, but extending the lockdown without offering additional support will be devastating."
Jonathan Geldart, director general, Institute of Directors
"As people with ultimate legal responsibility, directors need to have confidence that it's safe, and that if they act responsibly they won't be at undue risk.
"Businesses should consult with their people to put in place robust policies, which in many cases might not be an overnight process."
Helen Dickinson, chief executive, British Retail Consortium
"We share the view of the Prime Minister that safety is what counts when determining when shops can reopen.
"Already retailers around the country are working on plans for reopening safely and with all necessary social distancing measures in place.
"It is vital that the reopening of stores is based on who can do so safely, as opposed to trying to draw lines in terms of different sizes or types of shop.
"Further clarity is needed in coming days and we look forward to more details from the Government.
"We need a plan for shopping as well as shops - this means a plan that allows safe navigation both to and through our retail centres - and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Government to support this process."
Dale Vince, founder, Ecotricity
"I don't want to rush back into business as usual. Some of our functions have worked really well during the lockdown.
"We will be giving everyone more space. We'll operate a cycle of working from home and from the office.
"The reality is that the virus hasn't gone away and there's no vaccine, but we're going to live in the gap in between.
"We will not be forcing anyone to come in and take a risk they are not comfortable with."
Copyright 2020 Moose Partnership Ltd. All rights reserved. Reproduction of any content is strictly forbidden without prior permission.