Getting back to business

Getting back to business

BLOG · BY TTF CEO David Hopkins · 12 May 2020

Following the announcement of a phased return to work by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday evening, late yesterday we finally saw these plans put to paper.

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The 50 page document, Our plan to rebuild, sets out the Government’s vision for how the UK will restart both the economy and wider society in a world with COVID-19. It makes clear that there will be no return to ‘normality’, and instead sets out the basic timeline and principles, and phased approach for moving forward.

Step one begins from tomorrow, at which time it becomes permissible for unlimited outdoor exercise, and there will be greater encouragement for people to return to work if they cannot do so from home. There will also be permission to travel in the England to national parks and other scenic locations which have been closed since March.

Step two, which is expected to kick in no earlier than 1 June, will see the phased reopening of shops and slow return of children to school, beginning with those in years one to six before moving upwards. Step three will see the reopening of some the hospitality industry and other public places, no earlier than 4 July.

These steps, along with the broad outline of the ‘roadmap’ have been helpfully summarised by the Institute for Government in this linked infographic on Twitter.

There are however no guarantees. At all times this planned return is conditional on the wider context of the virus, particularly the rate of infection in the community. This is partly why the slogan of Government has also shifted to ‘stay alert’, signalling again that we are to enter a time of constant monitoring – with a sharp focus on avoiding a second spike of COVID-19 which would exacerbate the health crisis.

TTF Head of Technical and Trade, Nick Boulton, has been working through the plan to extract specific advice for the timber industry and our members, and I encourage you to read his article which goes into more depth on the ‘COVID-19 Secure’ guidelines now in place for all businesses.

Just today we are finding out the fate of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme. While the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, had already said we can expect to see these subsidies remain till the end of July, we now know we will see a phased reduction, between August and October, and the introduction of some flexibility to allow employees to work part time provided the employer makes contributions.

As the CTI survey released today shows, the timber supply chain is by all indications ready to return to work to May in concert with the rest of the construction industry. Longer term there remains a lot of work to be done.

One sharp issue is the divide between national and devolved government policy on COVID-19. While England is to ‘stay alert’, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are to issue their own advice, which currently remains ‘stay at home’. Having such variation within the UK will be unhelpful for many businesses, particularly those which operate nationally.

We will be advocating for broad alignment in the UK, with deviations supported by evidence so as to best maintain safety, respond to local needs, and ensure ease of doing business. After all there are only so many ways you can tell people to keep 2 metres apart, wash your hands and wipe surfaces.

Hope everyone had a restful weekend, and wishing all the best of luck for this week, particularly as more of the supply chain reopens.