Daily Mail

THEY’RE BACK AT WORK... WHERE’S REST OF UK?

As thou­sands of chil­dren re­turn to school, rail­ways, roads and of­fices stand empty...

- By Daniel Martin, Tom Payne and Izzy Fer­ris

Bri­tain took a huge step back to nor­mal­ity yes­ter­day as chil­dren fi­nally re­turned to school.

Yet the drive to get work­ers back to of­fices stalled again – on the first day after the sum­mer hol­i­days.

Early re­ports put pupil at­ten­dance at above 90 per cent – a fig­ure at lit­tle risk of be­ing matched in many work­places. Min­is­ters hoped re­open­ing schools after six months would let more par­ents re­turn to the of­fice.

But many of the largest rail­way sta­tions re­mained eerily empty dur­ing what was once the rush-hour.

Lon­don trans­port net­works were barely busier than last week, with Tube use still 70 per cent down on this time last year. Buses in the cap­i­tal car­ried half their usual num­bers.

Fig­ures out yes­ter­day sug­gested that West end traders could lose £10bil­lion a year and shed 50,000 jobs be­cause of a sharp drop in busi­ness from com­muters and for­eign vis­i­tors.

Boris John­son last night claimed ‘large num­bers’ were al­ready re­turn­ing to of­fices. But Tory MPs in­di­cated there was lit­tle ev­i­dence for this.

Sir Charles Walker, vice-chair­man of the 1922 com­mit­tee of back­benchers, said most healthy adults had lit­tle to fear from coro­n­avirus and should get on with their lives now the epi­demic was un­der con­trol.

‘I want the PM to level with the na­tion, be hon­est with the na­tion, look

it in the eye and say it is all of our duty to do our bit for our com­mu­ni­ties and so­ci­ety,’ he told Chan­nel 4 News.

‘At the fore­front of that is get­ting on with our lives and go­ing back to work.’

Fel­l­low Tory MP Steve Baker, who re­turned to Par­lia­ment yes­ter­day along with all his staff, said: ‘Of course it’s dis­ap­point­ing that work­ers aren’t go­ing back, and I would ad­vise the pub­lic to con­sider the con­se­quences of their con­tin­u­ing to work from home when their chil­dren are back in the class­room.

‘I don’t want to con­demn any­one, but I would ad­vise peo­ple to look down the road and look at the ruin that awaits us if we don’t get back to the of­fice.

‘There are peo­ple re­ly­ing on of­fice work­ers com­ing back, and many of them will lose their jobs. The con­se­quences will be dire for or­di­nary work­ing peo­ple, the whole econ­omy and in­evitably even­tu­ally for ev­ery last one of us.’

Down­ing Street fears huge job losses in town and city cen­tre shops and cafes if work­ers do not re­turn to their pre-lock­down com­muter pat­terns.

Later this week, min­is­ters will launch a PR blitz, en­cour­ag­ing all em­ploy­ees to get back to nor­mal­ity.

Mr John­son has faced crit­i­cism for fail­ing to up his rhetoric on the is­sue. There have also been ques­tions about the Government’s in­abil­ity to get civil ser­vants back to set an ex­am­ple.

The Prime Min­is­ter at­tempted to ad­dress the is­sue at his so­cially-dis­tanced Cab­i­net meet­ing in the For­eign Of­fice yes­ter­day, say­ing: ‘Across the coun­try hun­dreds and thou­sands, mil­lions of pupils are go­ing back to school thanks to the huge ef­forts their teach­ers and their par­ents have made over the last few days and weeks.

‘Peo­ple are go­ing back to the of­fice in huge num­bers across our coun­try, and quite right too.’

No 10 said it was un­able to pro­vide any ev­i­dence to sup­port this claim.

The Prime Min­is­ter’s spokesman said: ‘It is too soon for us to be able to share fig­ures with you on peo­ple re­turn­ing to work. The mes­sage from the PM is he recog­nises the im­por­tance that re­turn­ing to work has in stim­u­lat­ing the econ­omy.’

He said more civil ser­vants would be­gin to re­turn ‘over the com­ing weeks’.

For­mer trans­port min­is­ter John Spel­lar ac­cused Mr John­son of ‘mak­ing it up’ to cover for government in­de­ci­sive­ness.

He added: ‘If No 10 have any ev­i­dence to sup­port the Prime Min­is­ter’s claims they should pub­lish it im­me­di­ately. If they are se­ri­ous about en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple back to work, then trans­parency and cred­i­bil­ity are ab­so­lutely vi­tal.’

Trans­port for Lon­don con­firmed Tube num­bers were down 72 per cent yes­ter­day com­pared with the same day last year. Bus use was down 53 per cent.

How­ever, the au­thor­ity said Un­der­ground use had risen 8 per cent in a week and buses by 6 per cent.

Train timeta­bles will be re­stored to al­most 100 per cent of pre-pan­demic lev­els from Mon­day although rail in­sid­ers sus­pect any increase will be slight be­cause many oper­a­tors have told their staff to con­tinue work­ing from home for months to come.

The Mail re­vealed that in late July just 20 per cent of civil ser­vants were back at their desks – the only time the Government has re­vealed any de­tails at all about work­ing pat­terns in the wake of the pan­demic. White­hall’s union boss has warned that just a third of civil ser­vants are likely to be back by Christ­mas.

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of Lon­don and West­min­ster, told BBC Ra­dio 4’s To­day pro­gramme that as many as 50,000 em­ploy­ees in the cap­i­tal’s re­tail sec­tor faced los­ing their jobs due to the lack of vis­i­tors.

She pinned some blame on a ‘huge fall-off in con­fi­dence’ in pub­lic trans­port.

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 ??  ?? Ready to learn: Ari­ana and Eri re­turn to school in Lon­don (top) but Padding­ton Sta­tion is nearly empty at rush hour
Ready to learn: Ari­ana and Eri re­turn to school in Lon­don (top) but Padding­ton Sta­tion is nearly empty at rush hour
 ??  ?? ‘Kids back to school, peo­ple go­ing back to work. You sense there’s good news around the cor­ner....’
‘Kids back to school, peo­ple go­ing back to work. You sense there’s good news around the cor­ner....’

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