This week I had an article published in The Times stressing the importance of people returning to work. In Southampton businesses remain closed and the jobs of their employees are threatened. They are dependent on passing trade from people working in the city centre.
You can see the full article which was published below:
People resisting return to normal think economic impact won’t affect them
Yesterday I had a meeting in Southampton city centre. It was to take place in a once popular independent coffee shop. We arrived to discover it closed. It has not opened since lockdown and there were no signs of it reopening any time soon. This business cannot survive while the offices and council buildings around it remain mostly unoccupied.
But it’s not just this coffee shop. It’s the restaurants, cafés, pubs and sandwich bars. It is the train, bus and taxi drivers and millions of retail workers whose jobs hang in the balance. The longer people remain at home, either on furlough or a more permanent shift to home working, the more these industries and the people they employ are at risk.
The awful coronavirus has laid bare the fragility of our economy. Each part of it is dependent on the other. If the big corporates choose to save money on buildings then who will populate the bars and restaurants? Who will shop in our high streets? Already we have seen tens of thousands of jobs go. Restaurants such as Pizza Express, Wagamama, Frankie and Benny’s and Pret a Manger are closing hundreds of outlets and sacking thousands of employees. Banks are slimming down, airlines are restructuring and retail such as well-known high street stores, including John Lewis, Boots, and Marks and Spencer are downsizing.
Perhaps people feel this will have little effect on their lives. Maybe they think their local branch of Nando’s or their favourite pub will survive and be there for the occasional time they visit. Mostly though, those people who are resisting a return to normal think this doesn’t apply to them.
If jobs can be done from home, they can be done from anywhere. How many of those jobs being done from home could be done overseas, where the labour costs are cheaper? It wouldn’t be the first time our large corporates had used overseas workers to save money. The rest of the world is catching up. They are more skilled and more educated. Broadband is fast and getting faster. Can IT, graphic design, finance only be carried out in the UK? Can those tasks not be completed anywhere in the world?
Fast forward six months, a year or five years into the future. A future where only 10 per cent of the trains and buses run, where our high streets are boarded up, where black cabs are piled high on a scrap heap and where a generation of young people have no chance of work at all.
Imagine that scenario where those who can sit in their suburban homes baking sourdough bread and walking the dog between sessions at their laptop. Working in their newly refurbished home offices waiting for the next Amazon and Ocado delivery to arrive. Imagine almost no social interaction with anyone beyond your household, neighbours and a few friends. What sort of life is acceptable and what price are we willing to pay for it?
The government had no choice but to lock down our country and much of our economy but now that treatment for Covid-19 has improved, test and trace is in place and we know how to keep ourselves and our workplaces safe it is time for us to return to as close to our normal lives as possible. If we leave it much longer the damage to our country, our economy and the nation’s mental health may be irreparable.