Sturgeon v Johnson – no ‘intimidating’ people back to work in Scotland

Beyond England Downing Street Economy

Nicola Sturgeon has rebuked the UK government’s plan to get people back to working in offices saying she will not “countenance” any intimidation to persuade them to do so.

Boris Johnson is set to warn workers face losing their jobs if they continue to work from home with the government launching a PR blitz to get people commuting to offices again.

A government source, quoted by the Telegraph, said staff who continue to work from home could “find themselves in the most vulnerable position” if firms are forced to make cutbacks, compared to work-placed colleagues who have been seen at their desks during the pandemic.

 ‘Not the kind of approach that we want to take here’ – Sturgeon

Scotland’s first minister unequivocally ruled out following Downing Street’s lead, and said: “I will not countenance in Scotland any kind of narrative around this that is seeking to almost intimidate people back to work before, as a country, we have taken a decision that that is safe.”

“People should not be told that if you don’t get back to work in an office right now, if you’re still working from home, you may be at greater risk of being made redundant or sacked.

“I don’t think that is the kind of approach that we want to take here.”

Sturgeon said her government will work in a “phased way” to reopen offices that are still closed due to coronavirus measures, saying “we want to get back to normal as quickly as possible”.

Shapps says it’s safe to return

City centre businesses – especially those serving commuters and office staff – are facing a bleak future and transport secretary Grant Shapps today launched the government’s campaign to entice workers back to offices.

Shapps told Sky News the message “to people is it is now safe to go back to work” adding: “Your employer should have made arrangements which are appropriate to make sure that it is coronavirus-safe to work and you will see some changes if you haven’t been in for a bit as a result.”

While acknowledging “home working can work for some” Shapps said: “I think there’s a limit, just in human terms, to remote working. And there are things where you just need to spark off each other and get together in order to make progress. So I think common sense will prevail between employers and employees.”

The advice from the governments in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is for people to keep working from home where possible.

People like working from home – and are productive

Researchers at Cardiff and Southampton universities have found that people working from home are as productive, if not more than as at an office, with the number of people doing so surging from 6% of employees pre-pandemic to 43% in April.

Worryingly for city centre businesses, Cardiff’s Prof Alan Felstead said: “Our analysis suggests there will be a major shift away from the traditional workplace, even when social distancing is no longer a requirement”.

The report – drawn from a survey of between 6,000 and 7,000 staff – found almost 90% would like to continue working from home, with those who spent all their time doing so reporting an increase in their productivity.

“These people are among the most productive, so preventing them from choosing how they work in the future does not make economic sense,” said Prof Felstead.

‘City centres like ghost towns’ – CBI

The head of the CBI yesterday (August 27) warned city centres could become “ghost towns” if offices remain empty.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn called UK offices “vital drivers” of the economy which support thousands of other businesses from sandwich bars and coffee shops to dry cleaners and high street retailers.

Some of Britain’s “busiest city centres resemble ghost towns” without the “usual bustle of passing trade” wrote Fairbairn in the Daily Mail. “This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities.”

Yesterday Pret a Manger announced it will cut almost 2,900 jobs with chief executive Pano Christou, commenting: “I’m gutted that we’ve had to lose so many colleagues. Although we’re now starting to see a steady but slow recovery, the pandemic has taken away almost a decade of growth at Pret.”


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