Downing Street has denied the existence of a Government “back to work” campaign but said employers are to be reminded of how to make workplaces Covid-safe in a bid to increase office numbers.
Ministers fear huge job losses in town and city centre shops and cafes if workers do not return to their pre-lockdown commuter patterns.
But reports surfaced suggesting there was a rift in Government over whether the timing was right to be encouraging staff to return to their desks, with the coronavirus rate still growing in parts of the country.
The Telegraph reported the launch of a public information campaign pushing for home working to be curtailed was put back as a result of the splits.
But the Prime Minister’s official spokesman told reporters: “There has never been a ‘back to work’ campaign.”
He said social media posts, along with paid adverts, would this weekend encourage employers to consult the Government’s guidance on making workplaces “Covid-secure” to ensure “more people can spend some of their time working from the office”.
A “partnership” with regional and local media, in place since June, will carry a similar message “shortly”, said the Number 10 spokesman.
“We are promoting how to make your workplace Covid-secure so more people can work from the office,” he added.
“What we’ve also done is change the guidance to give employers more discretion over how their employees can work safely.
“The PM does want to see people discussing their working arrangements with their employers.”
The comments come after the Bank of England told MPs the Government’s own Covid-safe guidelines for employers meant it was unlikely offices could get back up to full capacity due to the need for staff to be kept apart.
Workplace advice includes introducing one-way systems, staggered shift times and limiting the number of colleagues that staff members are exposed to in order to prevent the spread of the virus.
Alex Brazier, the bank’s executive director for risk, told the Commons Treasury Committee on Wednesday: “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.”
Will we see a sudden return to offices?
Alex Brazier from the Bank of England told us that we shouldn't expect so, adding:
"We should expect a more phased return."
— Treasury Committee (@CommonsTreasury) September 2, 2020
Downing Street said there was “no update” on how many civil servants were back in Whitehall but confirmed department bosses were having to report to the Cabinet Office about how progress was faring in terms of getting offices ready.
“We would expect to see more civil servants returning to their workplaces over the next coming weeks,” the Prime Minister’s spokesman said.
Mr Johnson has reportedly told Tory backbenchers he wants Parliament “back to normal” by Christmas as he looks to urge MPs to lead from the front on the return to workplaces.
The Government’s bid to shake staff out of their lockdown habits appeared to be permeating in the capital after Transport for London reported higher Tube and bus usage this week.
It said 650,000 passengers used the London Underground network on Thursday from the start of service until 10am.
This was 17.2% higher than during the same period last week, but still 29.4% lower than the period last year.
There were 760,000 bus journeys made, up 22.2% on last week, but 54.3% down on 2019.