The drive to bring British workers back to the office from coronavirus lockdown may have hit a roadblock – after some of country’s biggest firms said only 40 per cent will return from home.
Although some companies, including accountancy giant Deloitte and law firm Slaughter and May have allowed employees back, others have been more reluctant to act.
Remote working – complete with its Zoom conference calls – has been judged a success by some businesses, who are now questioning the need for huge office buildings.
But MP Mark Bridgen warned ‘The alternative to companies bringing people back in is bankruptcy and bankruptcy of others that rely on them.’
JPMorgan has reopened its offices, but say up to three quarters of employees may not go back
Easing of the lockdown led to the 30 biggest employers in the City of London telling police they only intend to bring a maximum of 40 per cent of their workforce back.
And while Goldman Sachs has let staff return to its London headquarters only 600 of its 6,000 strong workforce took up the offer.
It is at odds with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s remarks on Friday telling people they should start getting back to work.
Barclays boss Jes Staley said ‘Notion of 7,000 people in a building may be thing of the past.’
Chains left in lurch without lunchtime rush
Business leaders called for more clarity from ministers yesterday over when millions of white-collar workers can return to their offices.
They claim working from home is damaging the economy, with High Street retailers such as Pret A Manger and Upper Crust slashing thousands of jobs after takings were hammered by the absence of employees buying food on their lunch breaks.
Boots also said footfall had ‘dramatically reduced’ as it announced plans to cut 4,000 jobs.
James Reed, of the recruitment firm Reed, said retailers had become ‘collateral damage’, adding: ‘Businesses need greater clarity over when workers could come back to offices.’
Shobi Khan, chief executive of the London offices landlord Canary Wharf Group, said: ‘There is no problem going to Spain, Italy or France, but heaven forbid you go to the office.’
Edwin Morgan, of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘Offices play a key role in the surrounding economy. City centre firms, particularly in food and hospitality, rely heavily on commuter custom.’
And MP Mr Bridgen, a businessman himself, told the MailOnline there was no plan B to bringing people back into work.
He agreed workers not coming back into offices would spell problems for others, like cafes and restaurants, who rely on their footfall.
Mr Bridgen added: ‘The alternative to companies bringing people back in is bankruptcy and bankruptcy of others that rely on them.
‘These are very strange decisions for company directors to take.
‘Quite apart from that, if companies don’t bring people back, they risk other people coming in filling gaps they have left.’
The High Street has been left in peril by the ravages of coronavirus and the pandemic’s lockdown.
It has seen British shoppers head online to shop, putting a feared 250,000 jobs at risks.
Already John Lewis and Boots have announced closures, respectively threatening 1,300 and 4,000 livelihoods.
The PM and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are said to be extremely concerned about the damage empty offices are having on town centre shops and restaurants.
Sources have said civil servants have now been told to return to their desks to set an example to the public on how to get back to work.
A conference call with Whitehall chiefs saw Mr Johnson say they should come back as long as it could be done in a Covid-secure way.
He has also asked business and City chiefs, including Goldman Sachs boss Richard Gnodde, to order more staff back to base.
But the largest banks and firms are said to be concerned about issues with public transport for its staff, especially in London.
Accountancy giant Deloitte (pictured) and lawyers Slaughter and May have had workers back
Boris calls for staff to go back to work – as long as they can safely
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Friday workers should start returning to work.
He said: ‘I think everybody has sort of taken the ”stay at home if you can” – I think we should now say, well, ”go back to work if you can”.
‘Because I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.
‘I want to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.’
Mr Johnson also hinted face coverings will be made compulsory in shops in a bid to reassure nervous customers.
He admitted that ‘the balance of scientific opinion seemed to have shifted’ over how effective makeshift masks can be.
The PM added: ‘I do think we need to be stricter in insisting people wear face coverings in confined spaces where they are meeting people they don’t normally meet.
‘We are looking at ways of making sure that people really do have face coverings in shops, for instance, where there is a risk of transmission.’
financial lobby group TheCityUK warned: ‘The main focus for businesses is the ability to provide a safe office environment for staff, as well as staff concerns around using public transport.
‘While localised outbreaks remain a possibility, many firms will either take a slow and phased approach to returning to the office or continue to take a wait-and-see approach.’
Barclays chief executive Jes Staley said in April: ‘The notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.’
Last month JPMorgan said it was preparing to move employees back into its Canary Wharf headquarters by the end of this month.
But it said staff into the office would be put into three groups, with up to three quarters of total employees working from home for the next few months.
Management in other business hubs in cities including Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow have also taken the same view.
Firms with a presence in Asia have also had their opinions formed by being hit by the pandemic earlier than Britain.
The big businesses’ fears is something smaller companies are also weighing over.
Lowri Tan, managing director of baby food brand Little Tummy, which pre-pandemic operated from an office in Soho, said her fledgling company would not be returning immediately.
She said: ‘The driving factor is definitely the money. As a small company, without having the fixed overheads and expenditure, it’s not a wise use of company resources when we know we can operate efficiently at home.’
Last week Ian Girling, chief executive of the Dorset Chamber of Commerce, said Ms Tan’s mindset was in lockstep with firms across the country.
Goldman Sachs (pictured in London) has had only 600 of its 6,000 employees return to work
How many jobs are at risk across the UK?
- Accenture – 900
- Airbus – 1,700
- Arcadia – 500
- BA – 12,000
- Beales – 1,052
- Bentley – 1,000
- Burger King – 1,600
- Casual Dining Group (Bella Italia, Cafe Rouge and Las Iguanas) – 1,900
- DHL at Jaguar Land Rover – 2,200
- EasyJet – 4,500
- Go Outdoors – 2,400
- Harrods – 700
- Harveys – 240
- Links – 350
- Mothercare – 2,500
- Oasis Warehouse – 1,800
- P&O Ferries – 1,100
- Pret a Manger – 1,330
- Ryanair – 3,000
- SSP Group (Upper Crust, Caffe Ritazza) – 5,000
- Ted Baker – 160
- TM Lewin – 600
- Tui – 8,000
- Victoria’s Secret – 800 at risk
He said: ‘As a result of the pandemic businesses will have to think about all of their future working arrangements, and this could be a challenge for businesses juggling the need to have people in the office or working remotely from home.
‘Undoubtedly, remote working has worked extremely well for some businesses and there are opportunities for some firms to save money going forward.’
If workers do go back in they will be greeted with the ‘new normal’ in big offices of temperature tests on arrival and strict rules on wearing masks in common areas.
Banks of hand sanitiser dispensers will also be a familiar site on most walls, as employers look to stamp out any chance of infection.
Accountancy firm PwC has reopened all its UK offices and chairman Kevin Ellis believes it will have more than just an impact on work rate.
He told the Guardian: ‘Bringing people together safely is important for teams, good for communities and good for the economy.
‘There is also a mental health benefit for many.
‘I see value in people being back in the office.’
The government’s website still has guidance saying employees should still work from home if they can and it suits the needs of the business.
Buton Friday Mr Johnson said in a Q&A with the public, dubbed People’s PMQs, indicated a possible shift from the advice.
He said: ‘I want people to be back to work as carefully as possible.
Boris Johnson said on Friday he wanted people to start going back into work
‘It’s very important that people should be going back to work if they can now.
‘I think everybody has sort of taken the ‘stay at home if you can’ advice – I think we should now say, well, ‘go back to work if you can’.
‘Because I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally.’
‘I wanted to see more people feeling confident to use the shops, use the restaurants, and get back into work – but only if we all follow the guidance.’
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Pensioners whose ageing TV set sent out rogue signal
The grandparents who caused an internet blackout in their Welsh village at the same time every morning for 18 months have finally been identified.
Pensioners Alun, 67, and Elaine Rees, 63, were unaware that their old 16′ Bush TV had been leaving their neighbours with poor broadband connectivity and slow speeds every morning at 7am in village of Aberhosan, Powys.
However the mystery, which also left engineers baffled, was finally solved when the ‘electrical noise’ responsible was finally traced to the couple’s home.
The retired couple explained that the £30 TV set, which is in their bedroom, was turned on every morning to watch Good Morning Britain.
Alun, 67, and Elaine Rees, 63, were unaware that their TV had been leaving their neighbours with poor broadband connectivity every morning at 7am in Powys village of Aberhosan, Wales
Retired GP receptionist Elaine Rees said: ‘One morning during lockdown at around 8.30am we could hear two men outside talking about signal strength.
‘We looked out of the window and saw they were BT engineers holding some kind of meters. One of them was pointing at our front door.
‘Next thing they’re knocking the door and asking us to turn the telly off at the wall.’
Mrs Rees went on to explain: ‘I love watching Piers Morgan in the mornings.’
Retired farmer Alun Rees added: ‘He told me we’d better get rid of the set immediately because it was interfering with the internet connection all over the village.
‘He said we’d have the whole village on our doorstep if anyone found out we were the cause of the problem.
‘Our son lives next door and he was having building work done so we chucked it on his skip.’
Openreach engineer Michael Jones said the company’s chief engineering team helped to solve the mystery by using a spectrum analyser to look for a phenomenon known as ‘Shine’ (single high-level impulse noise).
Villagers living in the Powys village of Aberhosan (pictured), Wales, were suddenly struck with poor broadband connectivity and slow speeds every morning at 7am
Engineers discovered an old-fashioned TV set in a house in the village (pictured) was emitting a burst of electrical interference in at 7am each day – causing the issue
He said: ‘As you can imagine when we pointed this out to the resident, they were mortified that their old second hand TV was the cause of an entire village’s broadband problems, and they immediately agreed to switch it off and not use again.
‘At 7am, like clockwork, it happened. Our device picked up a large burst of electrical interference in the village.
‘It turned out that at 7am every morning the occupant would switch on their old TV which would, in-turn, knock out broadband for the entire village.’
For 18 months, engineers were left scratching their heads when repeated visits to the village, located near to the market town of Machynlleth, found the network was working perfectly.
Baffled BT workers even replaced a large section of cable that served the village, which is home to around 400 people, in a bid to fix the mystery issue.
After exhausting their options, they were forced to call in the Openreach Chief Engineer team, a crack team described as the company’s ‘SAS’, in a bid to fix the problem.
Engineers were left scratching their heads for 18 months when repeated visits to the village, located near to the market town of Machynlleth, found the network was working perfectly
Engineers discovered the TV set was emitting a burst of electrical interference at 7am each day.
They traced the signal to a property in the village and Mr and Mrs Rees confirmed that they switched on their old television at that time every day – causing the broadband in the village to be affected.
There have been no further issues reported with the broadband network in Aberhosan since.
Suzanne Rutherford of Openreach said such issues are not as rare as people may think.
‘Anything with electric components – from outdoor lights to microwaves to CCTV cameras – can potentially have an impact on your broadband connection,’ she said.
She advised people to ensure their electrical appliances are properly certified and meet British standards.
Aberhosan will be connected to fibre broadband later this year as part of Openreach’s work with the Welsh Government to expand the network in rural Wales.
After the cause of the poor broadband was made, residents said they were determined to track down the owner of the TV to make sure it was thrown out.
One woman, who asked not to be named, said: ‘We don’t know who this person is with the TV but I’m going to find out.
‘We’re not early morning people so we had no idea that the problems were starting at 7am when the telly was being switched on.
‘Openreach say the person has promised not to use the telly any more – I want to make sure it’s been thrown out.’
Her husband added: ‘We’ve had engineers coming to visit all the time and none seemed to know what the problem was.
‘About a year ago one said that there was a strong electrical signal in the village that could be causing the problems but they didn’t know where it came from. Now I suppose they’ve identified this TV.’
Another villager said they were hoping the speed would be improved even more when a new fibre box was finally connected at the village chapel.
Neighbour Sara Williams said she has experienced broadband issues ever since moving into her home.
She said: ‘Just before lockdown it got to the point we couldn’t even use our phones on it.’Nothing would work then the landline would be down.
‘It’s only just the last couple of weeks that is has worked how it should have been when moving in.’
But Ms Williams says she had no idea it was down to an old television – and has no idea of the identity of the neighbour responsible.
She added: ‘I didn’t realise it was anything to do with a TV.’
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Protestors project number of times Donald Trump has played golf during Covid pandemic
Protestors have projected the number of times Donald Trump has played golf and the total Covid-19 deaths during the pandemic onto one of his Scottish golf courses.
The illumination comes as the total coronavirus death toll in the US reached 200,005 today, the highest in the world.
Its total death rate is more than 60,000 higher than Brazil, the country with the second highest death rate at 137,272.
Footage of the increasing tally outside the US president’s Trump Turnberry resort in Ayrshire, Scotland, was posted by the Led By Donkeys campaign.
Protestors have projected the number of times Donald Trump has played golf and the total Covid-19 deaths during the pandemic onto one of his Trump Turnberry golf resort in Scotland
In the projection, a date flashes up of when the president has played a round of golf as the number of deaths linked to coronavirus in the US rises.
The video is accompanied by a soundtrack of Mr Trump criticising his predecessor Barack Obama for golfing while president and claiming he would not have time to play golf if he was elected.
By the end of the 57-second video, 24 games of golf have been accounted for since March 7, 2020.
It concludes with the audio of Mr Trump saying: ‘When you’re in the White House, who the hell wants to play golf?’
America’s coronavirus death toll of 200,000 today was unimaginable eight months ago when the scourge first reached the world’s richest nation.
‘It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,’ said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher.
The bleak milestone, by far the highest confirmed death toll from the virus in the world, was reported by Johns Hopkins, based on figures supplied by state health authorities.
But the real toll is thought to be much higher, in part because many Covid-19 deaths were probably ascribed to other causes, especially early on, before widespread testing.
The number of dead in the US is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.
On Sunday, the University of Washington predicting the number of coronavirus fatalities in the US will nearly double by January.
In May the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington estimated around 180,000 deaths by October.
Their predication now stands at around 378,000 deaths by January.
On Sunday, Trump said the US could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people it would indicate that his administration had ‘done a very good job’.
The US also set a one-day record with over 1 million coronavirus diagnostic tests being performed, but the country needs 6 million to 10 million a day to bring outbreaks under control, according to various experts.
The virus continues to spread and there is currently no approved vaccine.
Some public health experts fear infections could spike this fall and winter, perhaps even doubling the death count by the end of the year.
If the US could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump (pictured speaking in a pre-recorded message which was played during the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly today) said, it would indicate that his administration had ‘done a very good job’
Yet the grim milestone and the prospect of more American deaths to come have prompted no rethinking from the president about his handling of the pandemic and no outward expressions of regrets.
Instead, Trump has sought to reshape the significance of the death tally, trying to turn the loss of 200,000 Americans into a success story by contending the numbers could have been even higher without the actions of his administration.
‘If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe 3 million people,’ Trump said Friday, leaning on extreme projections of what could have happened if nothing at all were done to fight the pandemic.
‘We have done a phenomenal job with respect to Covid-19.’
Mr Trump last played at his Ayrshire resort in 2018 during a four-day trip to the UK – a visit that cost more than £14.2 million to police.
Trump last played at the last played at his Trump Turnberry Ayrshire resort in 2018 during a four-day trip to the UK
Before that, Mr Trump last visited Turnberry in 2016 to reopen it after a multimillion-pound refurbishment
Thousands of protesters gathered outside the golf course while the president played but Police Scotland later praised the demonstrators for their good behaviour.
Before that, Mr Trump last visited Turnberry in 2016 to reopen it after a multimillion-pound refurbishment.
At the time, he was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and staff at the course wore caps with the message ‘made Turnberry great again’, in a nod to his campaign slogan.
Turnberry became his second golf course in Scotland after Trump International Golf Links in Aberdeenshire, the construction of which was marred in controversy as he clashed with residents, environmental campaigners and politicians.
The Balmedie course eventually opened in 2012.
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House sales rise in August after stamp duty holiday but are still down 16 per cent compared to 2019
UK house sales rose by 15.6 per cent in August after the Government introduced a temporary stamp duty holiday for residential properties worth up to £500,000, it has been revealed.
Figures from HM Revenue and Customs found the move, which will last until March 31 2021, saw an estimated 81,280 sales take place in August and also helped to protect nearly 750,000 jobs in the housing sector and wider supply chain.
However transactions were still down by 16.3 per cent compared with the same month in 2019, figures show.
House sales in the UK rose by 15.6 per cent in August after the introduction of a temporary stamp duty holiday
Total UK residential property transactions saw an increase in August 2020 compared with those in July. While the transactions have gradually increased month-on-month they still below levels observed in recent years
On July 8, the threshold for stamp duty, which applies in England and Northern Ireland, was raised to £500,000.
The holiday means nine out of ten people getting on or moving up the property ladder will pay no stamp duty, according to the Treasury. The average saving has been put at £4,500.
The HMRC report said: ‘It’s likely early impacts have been captured within provisional August 2020 transactions statistics.
‘Similar measures were introduced in Scotland and Wales from July 15 2020 and July 27, 2020 respectively.’
The Treasury said housebuilders, estate agents, tradespeople, DIY stores, removal and cleaning firms could also benefit from the increased activity.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: ‘Owners doing up their homes to sell and buyers reinvesting stamp duty savings to make their new house feel like a home are also firing up local businesses, supporting, creating and protecting jobs across the country.’
Strict social distancing measures were introduced for the property market from March 26 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Measures were eased from May 13 in England, and the market gradually reopened later in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Seasonally adjusted non -residential transactions estimated for August 2020 also increased compared to July
Transaction figures from August 11 to August 20 saw that impacts from coronavirus were evident in August 2020
Data showed residential transactions decreased in April 2020 due to the impact of coronavirus and public health measures but have since gradually increased month-on-month. The figures are still below levels observed in recent years
Mike Fairman, CEO at Checkatrade, said: ‘Since the Government’s stamp duty changes came into effect earlier this year, we’ve seen record numbers of home improvement inquiries to the site suggesting that consumers are planning to reinvest their stamp duty savings straight back into their homes.’
Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, said: ‘Despite only being introduced the previous month, the stamp duty holiday was already filtering through to transaction numbers in August as buyers rushed to take advantage of the saving.
‘Despite the recovery in number of transactions compared with the previous month, the pandemic has had a significant impact on the market with August’s numbers down significantly on last year’s.
‘The data illustrates just how long it takes for property transactions to complete and at the moment, with some lenders struggling with service levels, along with surveyors and lawyers, it is all taking longer than it usually would.
‘Buyers need to be patient, as well as engage good advisers who can help steer the transaction through in as prompt a fashion as possible.’
Joshua Elash, director of property lender MT Finance, said: ‘The significant rise in house sales in August compared with the previous month reflects a positive response to the Chancellor’s stamp duty initiative in the short term but sadly, it is not sustainable.
‘With the ongoing threat of further and more serious lockdowns looming, combined with the end of the furlough scheme in coming weeks, this may represent the peak of transactional activity before what will be an unpleasant fall in the final quarter of the year.’
Jeremy Leaf, a north London estate agent and a former residential chairman of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said: ‘Transactions are a better barometer of market health than more volatile house prices.
‘On the ground, we have noticed no sign of sales collapsing, renegotiating on deals or price reductions in the past few days – more of a determination to carry on.’
Nick Leeming, chairman of Jackson-Stops, said: ‘Our own data is in line with today’s figures and shows a steady rise in market activity, with accepted offers and new listings up month-on-month across the Jackson-Stops network.
‘Despite this, the lingering impact of the housing market lockdown is also clear from today’s data.
‘Residential transactions in August were still lagging behind 2019 figures, but we expect this to correct itself in the coming months with a flurry of transactions likely to be recorded in September.
‘Looking ahead to the rest of the year, we can expect to see a bounce in the autumn as pent-up demand continues to build. With people spending far longer in their homes than usual, many home owners are likely to get itchy feet where their current property is no longer suitable for their needs or lifestyle.’
He added: ‘Towards the end of the year, buyers will be looking to move particularly quickly to ensure they secure their dream property ahead of the stamp duty holiday coming to an end in March 2021.’
Anna Clare Harper, CEO of asset manager SPI Capital said: ‘For investors, it is becoming increasingly important to understand both the bigger picture and local variations.’
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