Firms braced to restart in three weeks but lack safety guidance

Most UK firms are ready to restart operations within three weeks but are currently without government guidance on how to do so safely.

According to the latest British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) Coronavirus Business Impact poll just 10% of the 540 firms surveyed would need more than three weeks’ notice before restarting business.

Almost two-thirds (60%) said they would need less than a week’s notice or no notice at all, and 29% said they would need one to three weeks to prepare.

Despite firms’ eagerness to reopen, it remains unclear exactly how they can do so safely.

In an announcement on 10 May prime minister Boris Johnson outlined a conditional plan for the next steps of the UK’s coronavirus response, with people allowed to return to work from this week if they cannot work from home.

Specific detail, such as how social distancing would work in the workplace or whether masks were advisable for the general public, is however still required.

Andy Davies, senior vice president at MHR, said: "Businesses have every right to press the government for greater clarity on the lifting of lockdown.

"Some companies may be capable of firing on all cylinders again within three weeks, as the British Chambers of Commerce claim, but it would help greatly if the government spelled out what white collar businesses should plan for in terms of timescales and acceptable working practices for different sectors."

"There is a long checklist every company must go through before offices and workplaces reopen.

"That includes redesigning workplaces and working methods to accommodate social distancing for what might be a period of months.

"Companies may need to expedite the admin requirements when employees are taken off furlough (not a decision to take lightly) and re-examine contracts of employment in case different hours are required.

"They will certainly need to re-induct employees about the new rules in play and have support mechanisms in place for the vulnerable or anxious."

BCC’s findings suggested that smaller businesses will be able to restart operations more quickly, with two-thirds (64%) of respondents employing fewer than 10 people said they would need less than one week’s notice to restart operations, compared to 50% of respondents with more than 50 employees.

The poll also showed that 74% of firms have furloughed some or all of their staff, down from 76% the week before.

More than half (59%) of firms have submitted a claim and received payment under the Job Retention Scheme (JRS), and one in five (22%) firms have attempted to access the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Adam Marshall, director general at the British Chambers of Commerce, added that firms will need to know that government support schemes, like the JRS, will continue for as long as they are needed so that they can plan ahead with confidence.

He said: “The timing of further easing of restrictions must be guided by the public health evidence, but businesses need their practical questions answered so they can plan to restart, rebuild and renew.”

BCC will continue to track business attitudes towards the restart of the economy over the coming weeks.

Further reading:

Keeping staff safe when reintroducing them back into the workplace

Rethinking business as usual post-coronavirus

Employers should introduce 'four days on, ten days off' rota to avoid virus spread