RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Fire up the Quattro, Boris – and let’s get Britain back to work 

Misc


The lifting of lockdown hasn’t been the great liberation we were all hoping for. Ministers’ entreaties to go back to work wherever possible have fallen on deaf ears.

Some of Britain’s biggest firms are refusing to return their offices to full capacity.

Companies in the financial sector, including Barclays and Deloitte, will continue to let up to 60 per cent of their staff work from home.

Many of Britain’s companies, such as Barclays (pictured), are still letting the majority of their staff work from home despite the Prime Minister’s plea to head back to offices

Only 600 of Goldman Sachs’ 6,000 employees have gone back to their desks at the firm’s London headquarters. There’s little prospect of the rest returning any time soon.

J.P. Morgan expects three-quarters of its staff to still be working from home for the next few months. The City of London, the nation’s economic powerhouse, may not revert to normal until the New Year, at the earliest. And, maybe, never.

It’s the same story in the business districts of cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Leeds. Our city centres resemble ghost towns. All that’s missing right now is the tumbleweed.

If the great slumber lasts until 2021, it will be too late for other businesses who rely on customers from office blocks for their bread and butter.

Companies are already reassessing whether they need to maintain expensive office buildings. The Zoom boom during the crisis has persuaded them that they can do things more cheaply.

A survey of 1,250 senior managers has revealed they are happy for their staff to work remotely for the foreseeable future.

That will sound the death knell for thousands of shops, cafes, sandwich bars and pubs, who rely on office staff for custom. At this rate, predictions of four million unemployed could soon seem like a conservative estimate.

Boris Johnson hoped the easing of restrictions would lead to a stampede back to work.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured)  hoped the easing of restrictions would lead to a stampede back to work

Prime Minister Boris Johnson (pictured)  hoped the easing of restrictions would lead to a stampede back to work

By now, many of us assumed most people would be bored rigid and itching to get back to the office, for a bit of social interaction, juicy gossip and a pint at lunchtime, if nothing else.

Yet it seems ‘working from home’ has become entrenched. Many simply can’t be bothered to get back in the old routine. They’ve got out of the habit of commuting.

The grave danger now is that when they are ready to face our brave new post-Covid world, there may not be jobs for them to go back to.

Managers considering whether to vacate their office blocks permanently are also capable of turning their attention to whether they need quite so many employees from now on.

They may also decide that if people aren’t having to travel to work, or look the part in business suits, then they needn’t pay them so much, either.

Wage cuts, as well as job cuts, may well become an integral and unwelcome fixture of the ‘new normal’.

It’s fine and dandy ministers pleading with companies to welcome staff back to the office, but the Government has to take a lead. Why, for instance, should an accountancy firm resume normal working when the Treasury building is practically empty?

Whitehall usually teems with tens of thousands of civil servants. At the moment, though, there’s only a few hundred on deck.

Ministers shamefully bottled a confrontation with militant teachers who refused to co-operate with the reopening of schools, citing ‘safety’ grounds.

They shouldn’t make the same mistake with civil servants and other public sector staff, currently languishing at home on full salaries. 

The Government should instruct all civil servants to return to work from August 1, unless they have a serious medical condition certified by a doctor. Anyone who declines will be assumed to be on strike and should be sacked.

The Government should instruct all civil servants to return to work at the start of August, and anyone who does not agree should be sacked

The Government should instruct all civil servants to return to work at the start of August, and anyone who does not agree should be sacked 

The same must apply to Town Hall staff and those who work for other public bodies. If manual employees, like dustmen and road sweepers, can turn up for work, why not the legions of pen-pushers, keyboard tappers, compliance officers and diversity enforcers?

Far from economising, councils are continuing to spend as if corona never happened. Councillors in Enfield, North London, for instance, have just voted themselves a £36,000 increase in allowances and have appointed an extra ‘cabinet’ member.

It would also help set an example if more MPs were willing to travel to Westminster. Most of the time the Commons chamber is deserted, with or without social distancing. The Lords are receiving a reduced daily allowance of £150 for sitting at home. Nice work if you can get it.

Ministers must apply themselves to the cause of getting Britain back to work with the same zeal they approached lockdown.

By insisting in March that we were all going to die if we set foot outside our front doors, they fashioned a rod for their own backs.

Far too many people have got used to slobbing about at home. When they’re told to return to their desks, they pretend to be paralysed with fear for their lives.

Not that it’s prevented millions flocking to the seaside every time the sun has come out.

Nor has it helped that the advice coming from Government has been confusing and inconsistent.

We’re told the safest way to travel is by car, yet at the same time urged to cycle or use public transport.

Ministers baled out London’s bus and Tube network with an emergency loan, then sat back complacently as Labour’s two- bob chancer of a mayor ‘Genghis’ Khan cynically played politics, cut services and introduced draconian anti-car measures.

The result? You could hold a Grand Prix in Central London without the risk of crashing into anything other than an empty double decker. I’m told the picture in other big cities up and down the country is pretty similar.

Meanwhile, the prospect of an early return to normality seems as far away as ever. As this column has always insisted, Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s decision to extend furlough until October was a serious misjudgment.

While the Government is picking up the lion’s share of the wage bill, private employers have little incentive to bring their staff back to work.

In a decision led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Government decided to extend the furlough scheme until October

In a decision led by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, the Government decided to extend the furlough scheme until October  

And when furlough payments do eventually run out, many of those enjoying a six-month subsidised summer holiday shouldn’t be surprised when they find the jobs they thought they were going back to simply don’t exist any more.

Yes, there’s a risk that Covid-19 may make a comeback. Some Opposition MPs and sections of the media even seem desperate for a second wave, just so they can blame the Government.

But life involves risk at the best of times. The looming prospect of catastrophic economic collapse far outweighs the dangers of a new spike in coronavirus.

Unless Boris fires up the Quattro and gets Britain back to work sharpish, at warp factor nine, we are all going to hell in a handcart.

After four months without a haircut, I looked like a cross between the mad professor in Back To The Future and a 1970s working men’s club comedian. 

That would probably amuse those who think this column has always been written by a 1970s comedian.

Several Britons have spent months without a haircut, meaning many could do with one as lockdown has been eased

Several Britons have spent months without a haircut, meaning many could do with one as lockdown has been eased

Still, after visiting my man Harry, at Ego barbers in Cockfosters, North London, I am newly shorn and fit to face the world again.

The last time it was this short, Desmond Dekker was at No 1 with Israelites. There hasn’t been so much hair on a barber’s floor since Elvis was conscripted into the U.S. Army.

Mind you, our usual line of communication was limited by the PPE. It’s difficult to slag off Spurs through a face mask, and Harry was togged up in the kind of visor arc welders have to wear.

I think he must have initially misheard my instructions. ‘What was that again, Rich?’

‘I said: “I could do with a good crop.” ’

Speaking of haircuts, I read about a woman who paid £250 to get her barnet done at a flash West End salon. 

The cost included ‘cleanse and finish’. Isn’t that what used to be called ‘wash and blow-dry’?

Still, giving it a fancy name obviously lets hairdressers charge more. I guess it’s the same as pubs knocking out beef stew for a couple of quid, but if they call it boeuf bourguignon it’ll cost you a fiver.

Misread a report about Uber starting to run a boat service in London. I thought for a moment it said ‘U-boats coming to the Thames’.

I had visions of Das Boot surfacing in St Katharine Docks, next to Tower Bridge. The Germans aren’t that desperate to stop us leaving the EU, are they? 



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