Sir Martin Sorrell: Government should 'lead by example' over return to offices

14 September 2020, 08:43 | Updated: 14 September 2020, 08:54

'The rule of six increases the fear factor'-

By Maddie Goodfellow

Business leader Sir Martin Sorrell told LBC that the government should "lead by example" in encouraging workers to return to the office.

Sir Martin explained that people are "too scared of returning to normality" and it is up to the government to inspire faith in people to return to work.

"What the government hasn't done, either nationally or locally, is launch any sort of campaign about getting people to return to work," Sir Martin explained.

"People are being encouraged to walk or bike to work but that isn't possible for many people, so people need to know public transport is safe to use."

Currently public transport in London is working at 33 per cent capacity, with many people still not venturing into the office.

The tube is currently running at 33 per cent capacity
The tube is currently running at 33 per cent capacity. Picture: PA

Sir Marin also said that government policy is preventing people from going back to work.

"The Rule of Six has increased the fear factor for many people", he explained.

"Messaging has become increasingly important, but we are seeing lurches in government policy due to the ever evolving nature of the situation, and it is not inspiring faith in people."

When asked what the government could do to encourage people to return to work, Sir Martin said: "I think it would help if Boris Johnson led by example and got the bus or the tube to show people it is safe."

A Government spokesman said: "We have been working closely with businesses across the country to give people confidence that they can go back to work safely, developing guidance in consultation with business and trade unions to enable employers to make their workplaces Covid-secure.

"To ensure guidance is properly implemented by businesses, the Health and Safety Executive has increased its spot inspections and is finding high levels of compliance.

"However, where businesses do not follow the rules, enforcement notices and fines can be issued."

Workers are being encouraged to return to the office
Workers are being encouraged to return to the office. Picture: PA

His comments come after it was revealed that fewer than half of workplaces have put in place adequate social distancing measures, casting "huge doubt" over Government claims about the safety of returning to work, unions are warning.

The TUC said its research suggested that many firms were not taking adequate measures to protect workers from coronavirus, with those working in low-paid and insecure jobs worse affected.

Just under half of 2,100 workers surveyed for the union organisation said their workplaces have introduced safe social distancing.

Fewer than two in five respondents said their employers have carried out Covid-secure risk assessments, and a similar number reported being given adequate personal protective equipment.

The TUC said its findings cast "huge doubt" on Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling people the vast majority of workplaces are Covid-secure.

Most workplaces are thought to have taken some measures to deal with the virus, but the TUC said workers believe their employers are not doing enough to protect them.

A third of those surveyed said they were concerned about not being able to socially distance from colleagues, and a similar number were worried their workplace would not be cleaned properly.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "Making sure workplaces are safe is key to preventing the spread of Covid-19 and getting our economy back on its feet.

"Rather than trying to bully people back into offices, ministers should change the law to require all employers to publish their risk assessments, and make sure workplaces are safe.

"They should crack down on bad bosses who risk their workers' lives.

"Big outsourcing companies have failed the UK on Test and Trace, and now this Government is going to give them more money to fail again, on workplace safety.

"Funding for the Health and Safety Executive has been cut by over a third in the past decade. The Government should reverse those cuts and provide HSE with sustained funding so they can recruit and train proper workplace inspectors, inspect more workplaces, and prosecute bad bosses who don't keep their workers safe.

"That's how we will increase workers' confidence that workplaces are safe."