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Two-thirds of London workers would be happy to return to their offices in time for the Government’s June target for ending social distancing, an exclusive survey reveals today.
However, it also flagged up the significant hurdles that still stand in the way of getting all workers back full-time, with the costs and health risks of commuting on busy trains and buses the main deterrent.
Transport Commissioner Andy Byford told the Standard last week that he believed it would take up to 18 months for the numbers of commuters to climb back to even 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.
The polling by property company Land Securities found that 58 per cent of workers were prepared to come back to the office now, rising to 67 per cent by June 21 when all laws restricting contact are due to be lifted.
But it also revealed that almost 90 per cent would feel more relaxed about going back if a free, rapid Covid testing programme was available.
Research from the Office for National Statistics yesterday found that 43 per cent of London workers — many of them commuters working in sectors such as financial services — have worked from home at least some of the time since the start of the pandemic. That is the highest proportion of any region in the country.
The unprecedented switch to working from home has crippled many central London businesses heavily reliant on the daily flow of commuters in and out of areas such as the West End and the City.
Major office centres such as Canary Wharf are still seeing occupancy levels massively down on pre-pandemic levels. At the end of February its Tube station was recording fewer than 20,000 passenger movements a day compared with more than 110,000 in 2019.
Marcus Geddes, Landsec’s managing director for central London, said: “What office workers need now is greater clarity on how quickly they can embrace a more hybrid model.
“The Government needs to reassess the road map on guidance for working from home, which will allow landlords and employers to provide clearer communication and ensure people feel safe returning to cities on public transport and to their places of work.
“The sooner that we can get offices working again and people safely back in our cities, the better — the UK’s economic recovery depends on it.”
The leader of Westminster City council, Rachael Robathan, said: “In normal times, nine out of 10 people visiting Westminster on an average day come from outside the borough. The pandemic led to the collapse of our daily commuting population.
“It is slowly recovering, but there is a long way to go. The return of office workers when restrictions lift will be critical to driving London’s recovery — all those purchases like coffees, lunch, after-work drinks and shopping are collectively incredibly important.
“The return of office staff will play a key part in reviving the economy of Westminster and council initiatives like the creation of the Oxford Street District, the launch of the Marble Arch Mound and the forthcoming Inside Out art exhibition will support that recovery as we await the return of international visitors.”