Responding to news that the full reopening of the economy will go ahead on July 19, Claire Walker, Co-Executive Director of the BCC, said:
“This is the news that firms across England have been waiting for and many will be sighing with relief to hear the Health Secretary finally give the green-light to reopening.
“But they still don’t have the full picture they desperately need to properly plan for unlocking.
“Business leaders aren’t public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources.
“Without clear guidance there could be real uncertainty on how companies should operate from July 19 and what they should be doing to keep staff and customers safe.
“This could lead to an inconsistent approach with different businesses reopening at different times and with different requirements which could damage public confidence, give firms a huge logistical headache and create a real risk of the economic recovery splintering.”
On the need for legal clarity, Walker said:
“Firms have been told to make their own judgements on which COVID secure measures to keep and which to ditch. But they are not public health experts and guidance from Government is needed.
“In particular, the government must give clarity on the issues of employment law, health and safety requirements and liability. Firms need to know what will happen if they remove some, or all, COVID-safe measures and then have a large outbreak linked to their premises.”
On changes to the self-isolation rules, Walker said:
“We are already seeing issues for businesses related to staff having to self-isolate and some of our members are struggling to stay open as a result.
“Instances of self-isolation will almost certainly continue to rise between nowand the change set for 16 August, so firms need to know if there are any plans to help them cope in the intervening period.”
On working from home, Walker said:
“With so many businesses already experiencing staff shortages, due to employees contracting covid or being forced to self-isolate, many will likely take a cautious approach even with the government giving the green-light for the return to the office. Our research shows many businesses are planning to keep at least some staff working remotely for at least the next year. But the capability to do this varies greatly across business types, so it won’t be an option for everyone.”
On vaccine certification, Walker added:
“If the government is encouraging some businesses to use a form of domestic Covid certification then it should immediately set out the rationale for the system and say which sectors will be included. BCC research shows most firms had previously no plans to use certificates. If they are being asked to use such a scheme then Government must set out exactly how it will work, including what this means for the issues of employment law and liability.”
On contingency plans for the future, Walker said:
“Our research shows that almost two in five businesses cite concerns about possible future lockdowns as a barrier to restarting or returning to pre-pandemic levels. This rises to 50% for business-to-consumer facing firms such as hospitality and retail.
“To give firms the confidence to fully reopen the Government must set out contingency plans for any future virus response, the circumstances under which they would be used, and the support it would provide businesses impacted.”