'It's safe to go back to the office,' minister tells LBC after Rishi comments

3 August 2021, 08:38 | Updated: 3 August 2021, 09:05

EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

After Rishi Sunak told young people that going into the office can be “really beneficial” to their careers and warned that video conferencing was no substitute, Tom Swarbrick questioned a government minister.

Speaking to Apprenticeships and Skills Minister Gillian Keegan, Tom asked if the Chancellor's comments meant the government was telling people to go back to work in the office.

"No, no. All we're saying is it's safe to go back to the office."

The minister said the government was using the summer to urge businesses to "be cautious" and to "start to ramp up."

But, she said the government was not telling businesses what to do, it was up to them to decide.

Tom asked the minister if this meant the government doesn’t have a view, "unlike last year?"

Ms Keegan said: "Last year, we did have a view, which it was not safe to go to the office."

Tom pointed out the Chancellor had been "banging the drum" for getting people back into work with his comments.

"Well yes, but now we’re double-vaccinated, we’re seeing case rates go down.

"We’ve opened up the economy, the case rates are still going down. It’s different now. People are travelling and we’re not seeing case rates go up etcetera, so, you know, there was a time in the pandemic when we basically said, work from home.

"We’re now saying that time has gone. It’s safe to go back to the office.

"Use the summer to ramp up that, as it’s going to be.

"Of course, there’ll be flexible working in the future as well, but it’s very much safe to go back to the office and that’s new. That is new, as part of the unlocking that happened or the restrictions that were lifted just two weeks ago."

Ministers have dropped formal advice to work from home and instead “expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer”.

Speaking about a recent visit to Scotland where he met with young financial services workers, Sunak told LinkedIn News: “I was telling them the mentors that I found when I first started my job I still talk to and they have been helpful to me all through my career even after we have gone in different ways.

“I doubt I would have had those strong relationships if I was doing my summer internship or my first bit of my career over Teams and Zoom.

“And that’s why I think for young people in particular being able to physically be in an office is valuable.”

Sunak has been the most vocal government supporter of getting people back to the office and increasing footfall in city centres post-freedom day.