CBI demands ‘no surprises’ approach to managing local lockdowns

Greater Manchester has been subject to a local lockdown over the last week

The CBI has called for greater clarity on how employers should handle local lockdowns, as increasing numbers of areas come under local restrictions.

The business lobby group wants a “no surprises” approach to the handling of local lockdowns after council leaders and businesses have complained of a lack of clear communication.

Leicester was the first city in England to be subject to a local lockdown after a spike in cases last month, while Greater Manchester and east Lancashire have been subject to local restrictions for around a week.

On Wednesday, pubs and restaurants in Aberdeen were told to close for at least seven days after a cluster of cases there.

The CBI has made six recommendations to the government that would minimise disruption for employers and still keep people safe.

It wants the government to:

  • Increase the transparency around the data used to decide lockdown trigger points, including which metrics will be used, to help local communities and businesses prepare.
  • Ensure decisions are communicated at the right time, at the right people – preferably during working hours. (The Manchester lockdown was announced late at night, and only came into force hours later).
  • Give clearer messaging around what people can and can’t do, for example what transport they can use, plus maps of the exact lockdown areas.
  • Communicate who is in charge of the lockdown so employers have a ‘go to’ person who can give them information from the various agencies involved.
  • Step up test and trace to minimise disruption – this could also lessen the likelihood of future restrictions.
  • Establish a framework that recognises that local economies operate differently so lockdowns will impact them in different ways. This should include support for employers dealing with absences due to self-isolation and access to funding if possible.

Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the CBI, said employers were working hard to follow government guidance.

“Local lockdowns are a crucial piece of the puzzle in how we manage the risk of infection and reopening the economy safely, so we must get good at them,” he said.

“The government rightly needs to act fast on new information, so there will be limited notice, but we must aim for a ‘no surprises’ approach as far as possible. It would be fair to say that the local business reaction has been mixed at best on how they have gone so far.”

He added that not all local restrictions are ‘one-size-fits-all’, with Leicester going into a full lockdown and household-based restrictions in Greater Manchester, west Yorkshire and elsewhere.

“Each will have their own impact on businesses directly and indirectly, so we must get the building blocks in place to protect jobs, as well as lives,” said Fell.

“We are learning all the time, and now have more tools in our armoury to combat infection risks. But at the same time business resilience is lower than it has ever been, with cash and stockpiles run down. So we must get this right.”

The government has published ‘contain framework’ guidance on managing local coronavirus spikes, but this focuses heavily on how local agencies should respond rather than preparations or responses for employers.

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