Wednesday, September 23, 2020

‘No surprises’ approach to local lockdowns vital for businesses – CBI

The CBI has today (7 August) set out six ways in which to build confidence for those businesses, local authorities and communities affected, if their local area comes under new temporary restrictions.

Understanding and awareness of the data ‘trigger points’ that decisions are based on, high-quality and timely communications, alongside a framework for how businesses can access support, will all play a part in easing the consequences of any local lockdown.

The Government’s initial Contain Framework Guidance, coupled with the experience gained from Leicester, Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and now Aberdeen, can help ensure a smoother process for all concerned.

Matthew Fell, CBI UK Chief Policy Director, said: “Businesses know that if infection rates spike in an area then new local lockdowns may well be required to protect public health. That’s why they’re working so hard to follow the Government guidance, keeping their workplaces, offices, pubs and shops, safe and COVID-secure for staff and customers.

“Local lockdowns are a crucial piece of the puzzle in how we manage the risk of infection and reopening the economy safely, so we must get good at them.

“The Government rightly needs to act fast on new information, so there will be limited notice, but we must aim for a ‘no surprises’ approach as far as possible. It would be fair to say that the local business reaction has been mixed at best on how they have gone so far.

“Not all restrictions are one-size-fits-all, as we have seen from the full lockdown in Leicester and the household-based restrictions in Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire and elsewhere. “Each will have their own impact on businesses directly and indirectly, so we must get the building blocks in place to protect jobs, as well as lives.

“We are learning all the time, and now have more tools in our armoury to combat infection risks. But at the same time business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down. So we must get this right.”

The six-point action plan business wants to see is:

  • Increasing the visibility and awareness of the data trigger points used in decision-making. Greater understanding and transparency of which data and metrics will be used consistently (including the thresholds) to both impose and lift restrictions, would help local communities and businesses prepare.
  • Ensuring decisions are communicated at the right time, to the right people. Timing announcements – as far as possible – during working hours can minimise confusion and allow employers to engage with their staff quickly. Affected authorities, agencies and stakeholders, should be approached in good time to help disseminate the messages to the right audience, whatever the type of lockdown (i.e. community restrictions and/or business restrictions).

Businesses also have an important role to play in communicating these messages to their workforces, often being the first port-of-call for information from employees on what the implications may be for their company.

  • Clarity of message. Say what people can do as well as changes to what they can’t do. Be clear what changes mean for business, transport operators, schools and others. Publish maps and explain what it means for people who live, work and go to school in and around the outskirts of any lockdown area.
  • Communicating who is in charge of the lockdown and have a “go to” person for businesses to both access and provide information. Lockdowns by their nature will require a multi-agency approach, but people and businesses will want to be clear who is ultimately responsible for its roll-out, whether it be a Government department, the local authorities or Mayor. This may vary by the severity of any new restrictions.
  • Stepping up test and trace efforts – this will be essential to national efforts, but also help affected areas to minimise disruption. Developing a system that produces the outcomes required will lessen the likelihood of new restrictions in local areas being necessary.
  • Establishing a framework for business support, which recognises that local lockdowns will impact local economies differently. This should include improved support for businesses and people where staff absences are due to following self-isolation rules; a clear mechanism for channelling funding quickly via local authorities; and ensuring any support is made easily accessible to local firms.

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