The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has welcomed news that full reopening of the UK economy will go ahead on 19 July, but fears lack of clear guidance will leave businesses uncertain of how to protect their employees and customers.
Claire Walker, co-executive director of the BCC, said: "This is the news that firms across England have been waiting for and many will be sighing with relief to hear the Health Secretary finally give the green light to reopening. But they still don't have the full picture they desperately need to properly plan for unlocking."
Walker continued: "Business leaders aren't public health experts and cannot be expected to know how best to operate when confusing and sometimes contradictory advice is coming from official sources. Without clear guidance, there could be real uncertainty on how companies should operate from 19 July and what they should be doing to keep staff and customers safe."
Walker said she feared the result could be inconsistency, with businesses reopening at different times with different health and safety requirements, which could damage public confidence, "give firms a huge logistical headache" and ultimately risk "the economic recovery splintering".
Appealing for greater clarity, Walker said: "Firms have been told to make their own judgements on which COVID-secure measures to keep and which to ditch. But they are not public health experts and guidance from government is needed.
"In particular, the government must give clarity on the issues of employment law, health and safety requirements and liability. Firms need to know what will happen if they remove some or all COVID-safe measures and then have a large outbreak linked to their premises."
Walker said some BCC members were already struggling to stay open as a consequence of issues relating to staff having to self-isolate, which she believed would continue to rise.
Having predicted that staff shortages would continue to create problems, Walker commented: "With so many businesses already experiencing staff shortages, due to employees contracting COVID or being forced to self-isolate, many will likely take a cautious approach, even with the government giving the green-light for the return to the office. Our research shows many businesses are planning to keep at least some staff working remotely for at least the next year. But the capability to do this varies greatly across business types, so it won't be an option for everyone."
Walker also appealed for the government to explain any domestic COVID certification scheme that it planned to introduce, as well as contingency plans in place. She said: "Our research shows that almost two in five businesses cite concerns about possible future lockdowns as a barrier to restarting or returning to pre-pandemic levels. This rises to 50% for business-to-consumer facing firms, such as those in hospitality and retail.
"To give firms the confidence to fully reopen, the government must set out contingency plans for any future virus response, the circumstances under which they would be used and the support it would provide to those businesses impacted."
Written by Mark Williams.