Ministers keen for employees to return to workplaces, Barclay says

Ministers have stepped up calls for employees to return to their workplaces next week.

Chief Secretary to the Treasury Stephen Barclay said the Government was “keen” for people to stop working from home where possible.

The comments followed conflicting signals on the issue from Cabinet ministers in recent days.

Mr Barclay told Times Radio: “We are keen to get people back in the office.

“We think that’s best for the economy to get back to normal as part of our recovery.

“The whole purpose of the furlough scheme has been to retain that link between the employee and their business.

“Obviously, people coming back as the furlough scheme starts to unwind, back into the workplace in a more active way.

“So, we are keen to see that take place.

“Clearly, these are conversations that businesses will be having with their staff.”

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

The comments come after Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he had “absolutely no idea” how many people in his department are currently working from home.

In comments interpreted by some as out of step with the Government’s message, Mr Hancock said: “What I care about is how effectively people work and obviously people should come back to the office if that is what they need to do their job.”

Mr Barclay defended a Government ad campaign encouraging a return to workplaces.

He said: “It’s part of a wider comms message really which is we need to ensure that work places are Covid safe, that businesses take the necessary measures.”

Mr Barclay said he did not accept union concerns that the Government and universities could be risking public health by going ahead with plans to fully reopen campuses.

'We're so ready for it! So ready!' @braunstone_cps teacher @FindleyMiss and headteacher @HalilMrT1 shared their excitement at being able to welcome children back next

— Department for Education (@educationgovuk) August 29, 2020

He said: “I don’t agree with that.

“I think universities, like the rest of the economy, need to come back and I think students need to be able to do so.”

Mr Barclay’s push for a return to work environments coincided with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson urging parents in England to send their children to reopened schools from Tuesday.

In an open letter to parents, Mr Williamson acknowledged that some may have concerns about their children attending school in England for the first time since March.

He insisted that schools are safe, detailing measures which have been put in place to minimise infection, while reassuring parents that the health risk posed to children by Covid-19 is “extremely low”.

The Education Secretary said: “If a child is not in school, they stand to lose far more than just a few months of learning. It could well put a huge dent in their future life chances.”