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Businesses advised ‘don’t change lockdown measures until there is clarity’

The government replaced the ‘Stay Home’ message with this new set of remarks on May 10
The government replaced the ‘Stay Home’ message with this new set of remarks on May 10

The advice to Cambridge’s business community today is to continue implementing a work-from-home policy unless already undertaking essential work.

The clarification follows the extraordinary television broadcast to the nation by the prime minister last night, which has set in motion a nationwide discussion on the new government guidelines.

“Having heard the prime minister last night, and already this morning had many questions, my strong and unequivocal advice to all businesses is not to change your plans today,” said John Bridge, chief executive of Cambridgeshire Chambers of Commerce. “We have not been given sufficient information on how to get our employees safely back to work, nor how to keep them safe while they are there. We hope that the statement in Parliament and the promised guidance documents will enable business to prepare.

“At the moment, it would be foolish for any business leader to encourage staff not already undertaking essential work to do anything but to continue to work from home if they can do so.

“I certainly share the prime minister’s ambition to see more people return safely to work over the coming weeks. I know that companies will do everything they can to protect their employees and customers, maintain social distancing and operate successfully as more sections of the economy are permitted to re-open.

“We will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions 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 protection equipment - PPE.

“As businesses we 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 we 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 sudden announcement of new lockdown guidelines, which replace the original regulations established on March 23, has done little to clarify the route map of how we get to restoring functionality in education, workplaces, shops and public spaces. Cambridge researchers have noted that a combination of improved testing, contact tracing and clarity on the use of face masks and other protocols (eg PPE availability) is essential before any sort of lockdown easing could be considered.

“Boris Johnson’s confusing statement is causing employees and employers a lot of anxiety and concern,” Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner said today (May 11). “My email box is already filling up with people who are confused about what to do and scared they will be forced back to work without proper protections.

“We all want to see a return to work so we can start rebuilding the economy but it needs to be safe. Workers have to know they won’t put themselves or their families at unnecessary risk.

“Ordering a return to work with 12 hours notice and no official guidance on how workers can keep safe is irresponsible and wrong.

“To get the economy moving safely, we must proceed in an orderly way, working with businesses and trade unions to put in place the measures necessary to protect workers.”

The big four trades unions – Unison, Unite, the GMB and Usdaw – together with the Trades Union Congress, have stated jointly that they will not agree to a return to work for their three million members until health and safety protocols are implemented in each workplace, with sanctions for those who attempt to lure their staff back to work in unsafe environments.

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