Ministers should lay out plans immediately for a ‘carefully phased’ lifting of the UK’s coronavirus lockdown, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has stated.
The business group stated that this is a time to be bold, adding that high levels of public spending should continue if required to restart the economy. PM Boris Johnson is expected to outline plans concerning schools, commuting and the workplace next Sunday, but has stressed that the UK must not ‘risk a second spike’ in infections.
Grant Shapps, Transport Secretary, told the BBC that once lockdown eases, businesses could be asked to stagger employees’ working hours, in order to lessen crowding on public transport. There are various tactics, he said, that could be deployed including staggering working hours and the Government is working with businesses and organisations to consider all the options.
The BCC announced that major employers and business groups expected to receive initial guidance yesterday from the Government on how to manage the safe return to work once the lockdown eases.
In a letter to Mr Johnson, BCC President, Baroness Ruby McGregor-Smith, said that in order to maintain public health and benefit the economy, the details of the Government’s approach to dismantling lockdown must be publicised ‘immediately’. Core requirements, she added, for embarking on this process must include mass testing and tracing.
Specific time-frame for reopening
Adam Marshall, the BCC’s Director-General, argued that businesses need to be given sufficient time to prepare to reopen, saying that substantial numbers of firms would require a couple of weeks or possibly longer to prepare to restart their operations.
Mr Marshall felt that establishing a specific time-frame for reopening would give firms the confidence to get ready, although businesses understand that public health is the number one priority and the Government may have to make changes to the plan along the way.
The BCC President also called for guidance and unambiguous decisions with regard to the personal protective equipment (PPE) employees should wear in the workplace, as well as methods to ensure adequate supply to both the NHS and the business sector.
The Government has set out five tests which must be met before lockdown restrictions can be considered. They include: ensuring the NHS can cope; a ‘sustained and consistent’ fall in the daily death rate; and a decrease in the rate of infection to ‘manageable levels’.
Additionally, making sure that the supply of tests and PPE can meet future demand and being confident that any loosening of restrictions will not risk a second peak ‘that would overwhelm the NHS’.
Extending the furlough scheme
Referring to firms struggling to keep going, Mr Marshall said that the Government must extend the various support schemes to help businesses survive. Many firms, he said, unfortunately face a very grave cash crisis and have been barely able to hold on during the lockdown but won’t be able to last much longer.
This is why, he continued, there needs to be an extension to the Government support schemes already in place. The furlough scheme, for example, will have to be extended, becoming more flexible to enable more firms to survive in the coming months and preventing some of the mass redundancies that will undoubtedly occur without additional support.
Baroness McGregor-Smith, in her letter, encouraged Mr Johnson to take further measures to minimise job losses and business failures, in order to establish a ‘high-growth, high-wage and low unemployment economy’ as soon as possible.
The Government, she said, should not fight shy of continuing with high levels of public spending in order to reboot and renew our communities and the economy, both in the short and medium term, while taking care not to burden future generations with excessive taxation.