London business group leader criticises ‘chaos’ of new workplace social distancing guidance

London business group leader criticises ‘chaos’ of new workplace social distancing guidance

The chief executive of a leading London business group has called on the government to urgently clear up confusion about its new guidance for employers about workplace Covid safety, saying “We’ve gone from clarity about social distancing in the workplace to chaos.”

Appearing on this morning’s Politics London programme, John Dickie of London First said that although his organisation is “very pleased” the government’s work-from-home instruction will be lifted from tomorrow “we are not happy with the nature of the guidance that business has now been given about social distancing”.

Elaborating, Dickie said there is “a considerable degree of uncertainty facing business around health and safety rules, around employment law issues that businesses will face, and around the liability employers will have if people do catch Covid. We need an urgent move by government to clarify that situation for businesses.”

Almost all legal restrictions in England on social contact will be removed from tomorrow, and replaced by a set of government recommendations and expectations, including “step four” guidance for keeping workplaces safe as rules are eased.

Central London business have signalled a variety of approaches to where staff will be expected to work while the pandemic continues, and recent research has suggested significant numbers of City employees wish to be permanently based away from the Square Mile.

However, Goldman Sachs chief executive Richard Gnodde said last week that his firm is keen to get staff back to their London base and that they will continue wearing face-coverings at work, despite this no longer being mandatory from tomorrow.

Dickie, who underlined his support for Sadiq Khan asking Transport for London to retain the compulsory wearing of face-coverings on their services, stressed that “the fundamental thing we need to do over the coming four, five six months for Central London is to get more people back.”

This would entail reminding people “of all the great stuff that makes London so special that people enjoy about London, whether that’s going out to the pub after work, or whether it’s going to the theatre” by means of “a really effective campaign selling the sizzle of London to people who work in London and to people from outside of London over the summer and in the coming months,” especially in the absence of visitors from overseas.

Dickie added: “If we’re going to do that sustainably, we also need to make sure that we’re funding our public transport properly.”

Asked if the capital has been permanently altered by the virus, Dickie said, “London is always changing, London is always different. The fundamental attractiveness of cities, of the bringing together lots and lots of different people who can exchange ideas, who can create, who can innovate, that’s not going to change. The human condition won’t change as a result of the pandemic. London’s been through plenty of pandemics before, and it’s bounced back strongly.”

Watch today’s episode of Politics London in full here

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