Cheaper parking and more outdoor city centre dining planned

Cheaper parking and more outdoor city centre dining will bring workers back to their offices, ministers hope (at the same time as planning to make it illegal for bosses to ban WFH)

  • Officials planning cities recovery strategy to encourage people into city centres
  • Plans include improved parking options and making al fresco dining permanent 
  • Yet initiative could be torpedoed by proposals to force bosses to permit WFH  

The government plans to use cheaper parking and more outdoor city centre dining to tempt workers back into the office – while at the same making it illegal for bosses to ban working from home.

Ministers are preparing a cities recovery strategy to encourage Britons to spend more money in urban centres, which have suffered particularly badly during the pandemic due to a plunge in footfall.

Yet the move will raise eyebrows given it coincides with today’s revelation that ministers want to give office staff a ‘default’ right to work from home – meaning it would be impossible for employers to insist on staff coming in unless they can show it’s essential.

Officials believe encouraging the use of outdoor space to ease the public’s concerns about catching Covid is crucial, and are lining up a new communications campaign involving city mayors. Pictured are diners in Soho 

The government’s cities recovery strategy will look at making urban centres more appealing for four key groups – workers, students, international travellers and domestic visitors, reported The Telegraph.

Changes could include encouraging councils to improve parking options as well as pushing for ‘easements’ to local authority rules around al fresco dining in order to make it a permanent feature.

Officials believe encouraging the use of outdoor space to ease the public’s concerns about catching Covid is crucial, and are lining up a new communications campaign involving city mayors.

Yet the initiative may be torpedoed if a proposal to make it illegal for bosses to force their employees back into the office comes into effect.   

The Government will consult on the plan – part of a drive to promote flexible working – over the summer, ahead of possible legislation later this year.

The move is likely to spark a backlash amid fears it could damage productivity, harm businesses that rely on workers going into the office and prevent a return to normality in town and city centres. 

A report from Tony Blair warned this week that almost six million white-collar jobs were at risk of being shipped abroad if the work-from-home revolution continued.

Changes could include the government encouraging councils to improve parking options. File photo 

The plans are also likely to spark a fierce Cabinet battle. Both Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson have spoken about the benefits of office life as well as the danger that a permanent home-based culture could create ‘zombie towns’.

A Whitehall source said: ‘We are looking at introducing a default right to flexible working. That would cover things like reasonable requests by parents to start late so they can drop their kids at childcare.

‘But in the case of office workers in particular it would also cover working from home – that would be the default right unless the employer could show good reason why someone should not.’

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove suggested this week that a hybrid model that included home working was likely to become the norm for many, adding: ‘We won’t go back to the status quo.’

It could effectively allow the millions of office staff who have worked from home during the pandemic to remain doing so for all or part of the week, indefinitely.

Yesterday, a leaked Cabinet Office presentation on the post-Covid ‘new normal’ revealed ministers had been told they should not encourage workers to go back to their desks even if all social distancing measures are lifted on July 19.

Ministers were told that the Government was now ‘actively looking at ways to help people continue working from home if there is no need for them to be in an office’. A formal consultation on giving workers a legal right to work from home goes a stage further however.

Ministers were also advised that face masks were likely to be needed ‘in some settings’, potentially for months or even years. And there was a warning that restrictions on foreign travel may have to remain in place for a ‘significant period’. 

Any move to sanction a permanent shift to home working is likely to meet resistance from Conservative MPs.

Felicity Buchan, Tory MP for Kensington, said the continued advice to work from home was having a devastating impact on central London businesses.

Mark Harper, chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, said ministers had no business interfering in relations between employers and their staff.

And fellow Conservative Sir Charles Walker claimed that for many younger people working from home was the equivalent of the new ‘dark satanic mills’.

Under existing law, employers can require staff to attend the workplace. Ultimately, a refusal to go in to work can be deemed an ‘unauthorised absence’, allowing an employer to begin disciplinary proceedings. But the Business Department is now looking to change the law to encourage flexible working.

Mr Johnson pledged to introduce the change at the 2019 election.

A Flexible Working Taskforce, established by Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng this year to advise on the change, is expected to recommend that people are given the right to continue working from home.

Peter Cheese, the co-chairman of the taskforce, said last month that the pandemic had demonstrated that staff could work effectively outside traditional workplaces. He cited a survey showing that 71 per cent of firms had found home working either boosted or made no difference to their productivity.

In March, Mr Sunak said that home working was no substitute for an office environment with ‘people riffing off each other’.

And a senior source last night insisted Mr Johnson continued to believe in the benefits of office working. 

Facemasks forever, WFH, self-isolation and travel quarantine to stay, and MORE restrictions in winter? 

A leaked document gave a glimpse of the UK’s potential ‘new normal’ today with facemasks, working from home and travel quarantine rules set to stay beyond July 19.

The Whitehall paper suggests that the government will stop short of urging workers to return to offices even after ‘Freedom Day’ finally arrives.

There is also a suggestion that face masks will be needed in some settings long-term, as well as keeping post-travel isolation rules.

Anyone who has coronavirus symptoms will still be expected to isolate, according to the draft proposals. And fears have been raised that more restrictions will be needed if the disease surges again in the winter.

The document – seen by Politico – emerged as furious Tories predicted up to 70 MPs could inflict a bloody nose on Boris Johnson in a crunch lockdown vote tonight.

The PM is facing a bruising revolt from his own benches as the Commons is asked to approve the delay of ‘Freedom Day’ until July 19.

Victory is guaranteed for the government as Labour has thrown its backing behind the extension of the brutal restrictions.

The shift from Mr Johnson, amid warnings from scientists that the Indian variant will cause thousands more deaths, has incensed many Conservatives who argue that vaccines have protected the most vulnerable and the country must learn to live with the virus.

Downing Street later said it did not recognise the Politco document and it ‘does not reflect the latest Government thinking’.

Mr Johnson insisted to MPs at PMQs today that the Covid rules were temporary. Responding to Tory backbencher Philip Davies he said: ‘Nobody, least of all me, wants to see Covid restrictions last forever, nor do I think they are going to last forever.’ 

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