Rishi Sunak urges workers back to the office as work from home order eases

9 July 2021, 06:59

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stressed the benefits of getting back to the workplace when coronavirus restrictions lift.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stressed the benefits of getting back to the workplace when coronavirus restrictions lift. Picture: PA

By Kate Buck

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has stressed the benefits of getting back to the workplace when coronavirus restrictions lift.

The order to work from home is expected to be scrapped on July 19 in England and Mr Sunak said he looked forward to the shift back to offices.

But unions have raised concerns about the lack of guidance for employees to safely return to the workplace.

Mr Sunak told the Daily Telegraph: "I think for young people, especially, that ability to be in your office, be in your workplace and learn from others more directly, is something that's really important and I look forward to us slowly getting back to that."

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There have been widespread concerns about the economic impact of people staying at home, with town centre businesses such as cafes suffering from the lack of trade as workers have been kept away from their offices.

Mr Sunak insisted that there was a benefit to workers from being with their colleagues.

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He said that apprentices at a car mechanic training centre he met in Wolverhampton were "super-excited to be back in their workplace".

"They were over the moon, because they've spent six months trying to learn on Zoom and Teams and everything else, and it hasn't been great," he said.

"They were saying actually being in, and most importantly, getting the support from their mentors, has been really valuable to them."

At Step 4 of England's road map, the guidance to work from home where possible will end, to allow employers to start planning a safe return to workplaces.

Mr Sunak said it was not for ministers to tell firms what they should or should not do, adding: "Ultimately I trust people and businesses to make decisions for themselves."

The Trades Union Congress has written to ministers to raise concerns about the lack of consultation on plans which will affect millions of workers.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "We all want working life to get back to business as usual.

"But as restrictions are lifted and increasing numbers return to their workplaces, it is crucial that we get workplace safety right, and give workers and members of the public confidence."

She said the TUC has "real fears that clear, detailed guidance for employers will be replaced by vague exhortations to employers to do the right thing, resulting in confusion".

Ms O'Grady warned that without detailed plans the country could be "hobbled by rising infections and enforced self-isolation" keeping workers out of action.

The prospect of rising cases fuelling a surge in the numbers self-isolating is causing concern in Whitehall.

The NHS Covid-19 app could be tweaked to make it less sensitive to prevent people being "pinged" unnecessarily.

The number of exposure alerts sent to users of the NHS Covid-19 app in England soared by more than 60% in a week, according to the latest contact tracing figures.

The head of the UK Health Security Agency, Dr Jenny Harries, told the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday that work was being done to "tune" the app to work within an increasingly vaccinated population to ensure it was there "for a purpose, not for annoyance".

Mr Sunak acknowledged public "frustration" and said Health Secretary Sajid Javid was looking at an "appropriate, balanced and proportionate" approach for the app.

The latest data showed:

- As of 9am on Thursday, there had been a further 32,551 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK.

- A further 35 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Thursday, bringing the UK total by that measure to 128,336.

- Some 45,601,445 people had received a first dose of vaccine - a rise of 86,953 on the previous day - with 34,198,779 of them having had both jabs, an increase of 171,477.

Meanwhile, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will tour broadcast studios to explain plans to ease quarantine requirements for travellers returning from amber list countries.

Holidaymakers from the UK who have received two jabs from the NHS will no longer be required to self-isolate for 10 days on their return to England from destinations on the amber list from July 19.

Under-18s will also be exempted from the requirement and the changes have been welcomed by the travel industry ahead of the peak summer holiday season.

Travel firm Thomas Cook said it saw a surge in demand for overseas trips following the Government's travel announcement on Thursday.

A spokesperson said: "The moment the announcement was made we saw an immediate spike in traffic as people started planning their holidays.

"Traffic doubled and has grown since."

Searches for Greece have "tripled in volume", the spokesperson said, adding before the change, the tour operator had been selling "very few" holidays to amber-list countries.

"With Greece, mainland Spain and Canaries all now available to people who've been double jabbed, we'd expect a flood of bookings over the weekend."