The Bank of England, which regulates some of the biggest financial-sector employers located in the City of London, has poured cold water on a UK government campaign to get more people back into their offices.
Boris Johnson’s government is pushing to get more people back to work in CBD offices around the country in an effort to bring relief to the many businesses that are struggling because they have traditionally relied on office-based workers and commuters for their livelihoods.
Many high street business are struggling
Now of course, those high street stores, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores, sandwich bars, pubs and others are struggling – or have already gone out of business – as their customer base stays home and spends its money in the suburbs.
But Alex Brazier, the Bank of England’s Executive Director for Financial Stability, Strategy and Risk, told the Commons Treasury committee that it was impossible for large numbers of office workers to go back to the city centres while risks from COVID-19 remained.
“With Covid safe guidelines, it’s not possible to use office space – particularly in central London and dense places like that – with the intensity that we used to use it. So it’s actually not possible to bring lots of people back very suddenly,” he told MPs.
Several months before many workers return
Brazier said he believed it would take several months before significant numbers of people were back in their offices. Even then, it would be dependent on how the pandemic played out in terms of infection numbers.
“Because of those constraints I don’t think we can expect to see a sudden and sharp return of lots of people to the very dense office environments that we were used to,” he stated.
“We should expect a more phased return depending on the public health outcomes that we’ll see over the coming weeks and months.”
Around 39% of people still work from home
According to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, around 39% of the workforce is continuing to work from home, despite the easing of lockdown regulations.
This varies by sector, with the Guardian newspaper reporting that around three-quarters of IT industry workers are working remotely, for example.
Apart from the risks posed to workers from COVID-19 in the office environment, there are also concerns about the capacity of public transport to handle large numbers of people while applying safe social distancing and health practices.