Region’s business support organisations respond to PM’s change of strategy

Boris at UKAEA, Culham

Boris Johnson’s long awaited state of the nation coronavirus  address  gave some encouragement to business, says Ian Mean, Gloucestershire Director of Business West.

He said he was encouraging people who cannot work from home to return to work.

“We said you should work from home if you can and only go to work if you must.

“We now need to stress that anyone who can’t work from home – for instance in construction or manufacturing-should be actively encouraged to go to work.

“And we want it to be safe for you to get to work. When you do go to work, if possible go by car or even better, by walking or bicycle.”

This message is obviously welcome but  business will be very concerned about the lack of clarity in the “rules” for this return to work.

Likewise, will be many employees if the opinion polls are anything to go by. They are extremely wary.

Business leaders in Coventry and Warwickshire say firms will need clear and practical guidance from Government as staff start to return to more workplaces.

And the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce is urging employers to communicate with staff on the next steps for returning to work and what measures they will be taking.

Will it be too risky? Is the question that many employers and employees will be asking themselves over the coming few weeks, said Ian Mean.

“Boris Johnson readily admitted that this television broadcast was simply the first “sketch” for a road map for re-opening of society. A sense of a way ahead, he said.

“It certainly was not the comprehensive road map out of the lockdown we had been expecting. And as a result, business will now want so much more clarity when the prime minister addresses the Commons later today and publishes what will apparently be a 40 page document with real detail.”

Louise Bennett, chief executive of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said she welcomed the clarity on the types of workers that are able to go to work – such as those in manufacturing and construction – and those who should continue to work from home.

She said: “Companies across our patch are keen to get back to work but health must always come first.

“As the Prime Minister has set out, this is not an end of lockdown, and where people can work from home, they absolutely should remain doing just that.

“Initially, this gives businesses in sectors such as manufacturing and construction the greenlight to restart operations if they had paused.

“But they will want guidance on how they can do that practically – which we expect to come in the coming days.

“Of course, firms will have their own measures in place on social distancing and other ways to keep staff safe but Government guidance and advice will be essential over the coming days.

“It’s vitally important that businesses communicate with their staff on the next stages of returning to work and what measures they will need to follow.”

The big message has changed from Stay at Home to Stay Alert. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland don’t like it all and want to stick with Stay at Home.

This does not bode well for  concensus in the UK at a time of national crisis, added Ian. 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.

“Boris 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 emp-loyees.

“Boris is good with Churchillian rhetoric. Now he must make it work in reality.”

British Chambers of Commerce Director General Adam Marshall said: “Businesses share the Prime Minister’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks.

“Companies will do everything they can to protect employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully as more sections of the economy are permitted to re-open.

“Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions, coordinated 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 PPE.

“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.”

The Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce will be launching its COVID-19 Business Support Hub this week which will provide the latest advice to business and employers and will be an essential source of up to the minute advice.

Sharon Smith, Chief Executive Officer of the Herefordshire & Worcestershire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are urging the government to provide business and employers with further advice and guidance following the briefing.

“Businesses need sufficient time, support and plans in place to ensure that they can provide a safe and secure working environment that protects not only it’s staff and customers but also wider public health.

“It has been made clear that businesses who can continue to work from home, should continue to do so, and that we must stay at home as much as possible.

“We welcome news that businesses are urged to begin to restart, however, we need to do this in a controlled way with clear guidance in order to protect not only people’s lives but also their livelihoods.”