To help inform this approach, the CBI has continued to engage with UK government ministers, the opposition, and the devolved administrations to ensure the guidance provides firms with the information they need to determine their own restart plans while keeping their workers safe.
Restarting the economy
On 10 May, the Prime Minster addressed the nation to outline the government’s cautious, gradual, and conditional opening of the economy. In his address, the Prime Minster highlighted a three phased approach for easing the restrictions in England:
- Step 1 (started 13 May): those who can work from home should continue to do so, while those people who can’t work from home should be encouraged to return to work safely
- Step 2 (from 1 June at the earliest): commence a phased reopening of non-essential retail and primary schools. Other measures include reopening more local public transport in urban areas
- Step 3 (from 4 July at the earliest): reopen businesses on non-essential list, for example, hairdressers, pubs, cinemas and theatres in line with COVID-19 secure guidelines.
In addition to the Prime Minister’s statement, the government also published a 50 page ‘recovery strategy’ as well as the Department for Business publishing new ‘COVID-19 secure’ guidelines for business.
To help shape the government’s publication of their Recovery Strategy, the CBI held numerous conversations with unions, health services and business to build national consensus on the restart.
Informed by these conversations, the CBI has established five principles that can safely and effectively unlock the economy. These include: putting health first, ensuring a unified and phased approach, allowing freedom within a framework and building back better.
These principles were used to inform conversations with key stakeholders and helped shape the CBI’s input into the government’s COVID-19 Recovery Strategy as well as new guidelines for business on being COVID-19 secure.
The PM’s ‘roadmap’ for easing restrictions and the accompanying guidance represent positive steps forward in helping businesses to plan their own restart operations. However, the CBI has been clear that these measures must go hand-in-hand with plans for schools, transport, testing and access to PPE. This will enable businesses to restart their operations safely, while protecting the health of their workforce.
Going forward, the CBI will continue to work with the government to ensure information provided enables businesses to get back up and running.
The need for greater clarity in the devolved nations
The new guidance, which applies to England only, gives firms a clearer picture of how to reopen safely and gradually and builds on good, proactive plans many businesses already developed. However, for many businesses – particularly those either operate or trade between the different nations of the UK – there is a much greater need for clarity on equivalent guidance for operating there.
While much of the discussion throughout week has been on divergence across nations, this week there have been initial modifications to lockdown from Welsh and Northern Ireland First Minsters.
In Wales, garden centres have been reopening with 2m social distancing, and there are plans to safely reopen libraries and recycling centres. Similarly in Northern Ireland, the First Minster has set out a 5-point plan with no firm timeline for each stage. Further to this it’s been announced that from Monday lockdown will be eased, also allowing outdoor retailers, like garden centres and recycling centres to open. And in Scotland, as of yet, there has not yet been no changes to the lockdown measures.
Acting on business concerns, the CBI has been engaging with the devolved administrations calling for further guidance.
In Scotland, CBI Director, Tracy Black has engaged with Secretary of State, Alister Jack, as well as James Hepburn, SNP Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills. Further to this, CBI Scotland has had continued engagement with the First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon, and we know that the Scottish government is committed to publish guidance, sector by sector, in coming days and weeks – with early priority, construction, manufacturing and retail.
In Wales, CBI Director, Ian Price, has held calls with the Welsh Secretary of State, Simon Hart as well as the First Minster, Mark Drakeford. During these calls, Ian has provided business insight and emphasised the need to act in step with other parts of the UK
And finally, in Northern Ireland, Angela McGowan, continued engaging with DUP Leader, Arlene Foster and DUP Westminster Leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who noted the importance of avoid divergence on return to work safety guidance and restart plans and well as the need to ensure there is no cliff edge of the Job Retention Scheme (JRS).
The future of the Job Retention Scheme
On the Job Retention Scheme, this week the Chancellor extended the furlough scheme by four months, to October. Avoiding the June cliff-edge will protect millions of jobs and the CBI helped shape next phase with the Chancellor mentioning the CBI in his commons statement.
Following engagement with the Treasury prior to the announcement, Carolyn emphasised the need for greater flexibility and the scheme to allow partial furlough. Responding to the announcement, the CBI welcomed the importance of support schemes adapting as economic activity slowly speeds up.
Going forward, the CBI is in close discussions with sectors to gauge where additional support may be needed. Further to this, the CBI has started to identify some of the longer-term policy measures needed to encourage business dynamism and is continuing to engage with the Treasury on the next phase.
Engaging with Labour on the PPE Challenge
Elsewhere, the CBI has continued to build relationships with the new shadow cabinet with CBI Director General, holding a call with Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves.
During this call, Carolyn highlighted that alongside growing NHS demand for PPE, there is growing business demand due to businesses updating their procedures and ways of working to enable them to restart work safely.
Further to this, Carolyn discussed the need for a whole government approach to tackle the PPE challenge and highlighted the CBI’s PPE Working Group aimed to inform, connect and engage a cross section of businesses to help streamline engagement with government while working to better coordinate PPE manufacturing and procurement among firms.