Dame Carolyn Fairbairn/BBC/ Warnings – City Centres ‘Risk’ Becoming ‘Ghost Towns’ If Staff Do Not Return To The Office
City centres could become “ghost towns” if the prime minister does not to do more to encourage workers to go back to the office, the head of the CBI says. Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said allowing staff to work from home had helped keep firms afloat during the pandemic.
Carolyn Fairbairn, the director-general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), said getting staff back into offices and workplaces is as important as pupils returning to school in September.
“Remote working has been a resounding success for many firms and employees. None of these benefits should be lost.”
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Boris Johnson signalled an end to stay at home guidance in July as he gave employers the green light to get staff back to work. But Dame Carolyn called for the Prime Minister to do more, to get office workers back at their desks.
“Flexible working is here to stay and needs to remain an option for many. But there are serious downsides too.”
‘Escape’ From City Centres, ‘Refuge’ Working From Home
Her plea came as a survey from University College London found, almost a third of younger workers intend to carry on working from home, the Telegraph reports.
But as offices stood empty, thousands of local businesses that relied on the passing trade were suffering, she said.
“Not everyone has the space to work effectively at home. An ironing board in the bedroom does not make a great workspace. And the mental health challenges triggered by isolation are all too real for many.”
A separate survey by the BBC found that 50 of the UK’s biggest employers have no plans to return staff to the office full-time.
However, a increasing number of employers say that home working could become a more permanent state of affairs. Though this was initially brought in as a temporary measure in the lockdown.
The law firm, Linklaters said all of its 5,300 staff could spend up to 50% of their time working remotely from now on.
Lloyds Banking Group is reviewing its office space needs and working practices. This is after concluding that most of its 65,000 staff have worked effectively from home during the crisis.
Others, including NatWest, Fujitsu, Facebook, Twitter and HSBC have also said they plan to allow much more flexible working in future.
Experts say it could allow firms to cut their rent and utilities costs, while offering employees a better work-life balance.
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“The UK’s offices are vital drivers of our economy,” she wrote in the Daily Mail. “They support thousands of local firms, from dry cleaners to sandwich bars. They help train and develop young people. And they foster better work and productivity for many kinds of business.”
“The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade. This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities,” she said.
“There is also the question of fairness. Many employees, from barbers to brewers, have no option to work from home.“
The impact on local businesses has also been stark. Sandwich chain, Pret a Manger – which relies on a lunchtime work crowd – said in June it was shutting 30 outlets. It will also be cutting 1,000 jobs amid a slump in demand. It has also cut its staff’s hours.
City Centers Impact On Driving The Economy of The Future
Dame Carolyn acknowledged home working had worked well for many, and was likely to remain “an option”.
But she warned of “serious downsides,” including, a lack of opportunities to train young people, foster better work and productivity in certain types of business.
“More flexible working is indisputably a good thing for our economy and quality of life, but we must have a balance.“
“It’s time for the UK to bring its workplaces back to life or we will look back with regret at the jobs lost, training missed and communities harmed,” Dame Carolyn said.
In a final plea, Dame Carolyn “ask the Government to work with business to build confidence in returning to offices, starting now.”
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