Barmy Boris won’t tell us “when to go back to work”

People no longer want packed and frustrating commutes to work. they want a new normal which combines office and home working in a way that is beneficial for both employer and employee

It would appear that Barmy Boris Johnson, our much lamented Prime Minister, believes that a lot of us have been skiving. He’s instructed us to go back to work in September to get the wheels of industry and commerce moving again.

We’ll I’ve got news for Barmy Boris the decisions of when we ‘go back to work’, will not be taken by him or any Government. It will be taken by responsible employers and their employees when they are ready. In a further news burst for him many won’t be going back at all either because they haven’t got a job to go back to or because they are seeking a new normal for their working environment.

What an insult Johnson’s words are for the diligent and conscientious employers who have worked hard to keep their staff in gainful employment from home. What a slap in the face for millions of people who have swiftly adapted to a new way of working from home. Many of these people would like to carry on working from home for at least some of the time.

I think that the new normal will be the rapid acceptance of new ways of working which we have been moving towards for two decades but which have been rapidly accelerated in the first two months of the lockdown.

I suspect that most people are not too bothered about the working conditions when they get to work. A good employer will have worked with Unions and other staff reps to ensure that those conditions are safe. It’s how they get there that will create the health problems. Travel on a London tube or most Liverpool busses between 7.00 a.m. in the morning at 9.00 a.m. and you won’t be one metre or two from someone else’s’ exhalation but about 1 foot. There is no way that a packed rush hour form of transport can ever be made safe.

Just as importantly in the long-term it can never be made a pleasant experience either. For too many people all over the country is a squalid inconvenient part of their life which can leave them exhausted before they even start work.

To take an example of a Company that I am associated with in the City of London, CCLA. Within 10 days at the start of the lockdown it got 130+ staff equipped and comfortably working from home. Most of our staff like to work from home but are missing the office. So CCLA is giving them the best of both worlds. 3 days in the office and two working from home. Offices are still needed for both business and companionship reasons but not on every day of the week.

This change is not being imposed on staff but worked out with them. The Company benefits from reduced costs, we won’t be moving to the bigger accommodation previously required by an expanding business, and improved effectiveness of contented staff. The staff will save money on fares and lunch costs and up to 2.5 hours travel per day. What’s not to like?

The fact is that the Government is only guiding us into decisions but we are, for the most part, being far more careful than the Government.

Most people went into lockdown a good week before the Government mandated it. They say we can stop shielding in a couple of weeks but most people I know will be far more careful about who they will let into their homes and where they go out for leisure and pleasure. Booze for Britain Johnson urged but onl9 9% of the population went out on the first post lockdown weekend in England.

The fact is that 95% of us are being careful with problems caused by 5% of dismiss the virus a s a hoax or feel that the virus will not hurt them.

The fact is that many of us don’t want to go back to normal. We want to go forward to a new normal. Yes, we do want to spend less time on disgusting buses and trains or in traffic jams in peak hours. We do want to see more of our kids growing up. We do want to live in an atmosphere that isn’t killing us or our planet through pollution.

That needs changes in policy. Get this right and we can spend less money on expensive public and private sector transport infrastructure. Get this right and we will spend less on health problems caused by pollution and stress. Get this right and we will increase the sense of wellbeing in our communities which is massively behind that in major European Countries.

Whether it is Liverpool Council charging ahead with pre-Covid shovel ready schemes without testing their post-Covid validity or Barmy Boris urging us to drink our way to economic success and return to normal by Christmas there are signs that policy makers are not listening to the new reality.

There will be huge changes in work patterns and cultures in the next two or three years. Our job as policy and decision makers is to mitigate the deleterious effects on those who will lose by these changes and bring full support to those who are riding the tsunami of change to ensure we maximise the good things that we have seen in this Covid period.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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