Britain’s roads and railways were still almost empty today as the drive to get workers back to offices following the summer holidays stalled again.
While some London Underground trains were beginning to look busier during rush hour this morning, hardly anyone was to be seen arriving at major terminals in the capital including Waterloo and Paddington.
Commuters travelling into London on train lines such as Great Western Railway and Southeastern also tweeted photographs of near-empty carriages, while pictures of the M40 during rush hour also showed very light traffic.
London transport networks are barely busier than last week, with Tube use yesterday still more than 70 per cent down on this time last year. Buses in the capital are now carrying only half their usual numbers.
However, there were 550 jams across 230 miles of roads in London as of 8am, with congestion levels at 41 per cent, compared to 28 per cent last Wednesday – a rise of 13 percentage points or nearly double the amount.
TomTom data also showed this was up on the same time yesterday at 36 per cent, but still well below last year’s average of 67 per cent. Congestion at 7am today was 34 per cent, up from 25 per cent at the same time last week.
It comes as Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said ‘more than half’ of staff are ‘fully back in the offices’ at the Department for Work and Pensions amid a push for civil servants to get back to their desks.
Light traffic during rush hour on the M40 near Warwick this morning as people continue to stay at home across Britain
A person walks alongside an escalator at Canary Wharf Underground station in East London this morning
The near-empty concourse at London’s Waterloo, which is Britain’s busiest station, during this morning’s rush hour
Congestion levels at 8am today (far right) were at 41 per cent (red line), compared to 28 per cent last Wednesday (red dotted line) – a rise of 13 percentage points or nearly double the amount. This was up on the same time yesterday at 36 per cent, but still well below last year’s average of 67 per cent (blue dotted line), according to the data from TomTom
A Google Traffic map at 9.30am today shows busy roads in Central London (red), but many in the suburbs are clear (green)
An empty concourse at London Paddington train station this morning as railway stations continue to be nearly deserted
A mostly empty Southeastern train is photographed by a commuter during rush hour at 7.30am this morning
The 7.23am Great Western Railway train from Swindon to London Paddington this morning is mostly empty
A lone woman uses an escalator at Canary Wharf station in East London during rush hour this morning
The concourse at London’s Waterloo station looks very quiet this morning despite it being rush hour in the capital
A platform at Canary Wharf Underground station in East London, which is mostly empty today despite it being rush hour
As Downing Street tries to encourage people back to the workplace, Ms Coffey told BBC Breakfast: ‘Even then we have capacity on how many people can be in a Covid-safe environment within our workplace.’
Ms Coffey added that 799 of the department’s 804 sites are open, and hoped that children returning to school would give parents more opportunities to go back to the office.
Teaching union chief admits ‘schools are as SAFE as possible’ as millions more children enjoy ‘calm’ return to classes in England today… after weeks of unions stoking fears of Covid threat facing staff and pupils
Teaching union chiefs today admitted schools were as ‘safe as possible’ as millions more children returned to classes in England and Wales after six months at home during the coronavirus lockdown.
The National Education Union said schools were seeing a ‘very calm, managed and positive’ return to the classroom as families largely appeared to defy virus fears, with many schools reporting high attendance rates.
Teacher Joanne Conlon with some of her pupils on their first day at St John the Baptist Primary School in Belfast yesterday
However in Scotland more than 100,000 pupils are absent from school, with 117 testing positive for Covid-19 and the attendance rate in the country’s schools – which went back on August 11 – at just 84.5 per cent.
Mary Bousted, joint general-secretary of the London-based NEU, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning: ‘Yesterday for those pupils who returned and today when more will return, it’s a really important day.
‘There’ll be lots of nervous children and young people this morning, and I’m sure when they get into school they’ll very quickly be reassured by the routines and be really glad to be back with their teachers and their friends.’
She added: ‘I think that leaders, teachers and support staff have worked really hard to put protocols in place to ensure that it’s a safe as possible return to school. They have worked really, really hard.
‘So we hope that everything will go well, and the signs are at the moment that it’s a very calm, managed and positive return to school – and that’s good.’
However, she added that schools were struggling with the extra costs of cleaning, putting Perspex screens up, and rearranging the school – amid the ‘huge distraction which was the A-level and GCSE fiasco in secondary schools’.
Ms Bousted continued: ‘So one of the real concerns is that this is costing quite a lot, and schools do not have that money in their budget, and that’s a worry – and that will be a continuing worry.’
It follows teaching unions being accused in June by MP Jonathan Gullis, himself a former teacher, of mounting a ‘campaign of fear’ by urging parents not to send children back to ‘death trap’ schools.
She said: ‘It’s important that employers and employees have that discussion about Covid-safe environments. There will be more opportunities for parents to go back into the office if that’s what is the best thing for them and their employer.’
Britain took a huge step back to normality yesterday as children finally returned to school, but the drive to get workers back to offices stalled again – on the first day after the summer holidays.
Early reports put pupil attendance at above 90 per cent – a figure at little risk of being matched in many workplaces. Ministers hoped reopening schools after six months would let more parents return to the office.
But many of the largest railway stations remained eerily empty during what was once the rush hour.
Figures out yesterday suggested that West End traders could lose £10billion a year and shed 50,000 jobs because of a sharp drop in business from commuters and foreign visitors.
Sir Charles Walker, vice-chairman of the 1922 committee of backbenchers, said most healthy adults had little to fear from coronavirus and should get on with their lives now the epidemic was under control.
‘I want the PM to level with the nation, be honest with the nation, look it in the eye and say it is all of our duty to do our bit for our communities and society,’ he told Channel 4 News.
‘At the forefront of that is getting on with our lives and going back to work.’
Fellow Tory MP Steve Baker, who returned to Parliament yesterday along with all his staff, said: ‘Of course it’s disappointing that workers aren’t going back, and I would advise the public to consider the consequences of their continuing to work from home when their children are back in the classroom.
‘I don’t want to condemn anyone, but I would advise people to look down the road and look at the ruin that awaits us if we don’t get back to the office.
‘There are people relying on office workers coming back, and many of them will lose their jobs. The consequences will be dire for ordinary working people, the whole economy and inevitably eventually for every last one of us.’
Downing Street fears huge job losses in town and city centre shops and cafes if workers do not return to their pre-lockdown commuter patterns.
Later this week, ministers will launch a PR blitz, encouraging all employees to get back to normality.
Mr Johnson has faced criticism for failing to up his rhetoric on the issue. There have also been questions about the Government’s inability to get civil servants back to set an example.
The Prime Minister attempted to address the issue at his socially-distanced Cabinet meeting in the Foreign Office yesterday, saying: ‘Across the country hundreds and thousands, millions of pupils are going back to school thanks to the huge efforts their teachers and their parents have made over the last few days and weeks.
‘People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too.’
No 10 said it was unable to provide any evidence to support this claim.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘It is too soon for us to be able to share figures with you on people returning to work. The message from the PM is he recognises the importance that returning to work has in stimulating the economy.’
He said more civil servants would begin to return ‘over the coming weeks’.
Former transport minister John Spellar accused Mr Johnson of ‘making it up’ to cover for government indecisiveness.
He added: ‘If No 10 have any evidence to support the Prime Minister’s claims they should publish it immediately. If they are serious about encouraging people back to work, then transparency and credibility are absolutely vital.’
Transport for London confirmed Tube numbers were down 72 per cent yesterday compared with the same day last year. Bus use was down 53 per cent.
Heavy traffic heading into London on the A3 Roehampton Vale in South West London this morning
Passengers ride on a London Underground Jubilee line train during the rush hour in the capital this morning
Traffic makes its way into London on the A3 Roehampton Vale in the South West of the capital this morning
Commuters arrive in Waterloo Station in London during the morning rush hour today
The concourse at London’s Waterloo station, which is Britain’s busiest train station, is pictured during the rush hour today
Commuters walk along the platform at London Waterloo station this morning during rush hour in the capital
Passengers commute on a London Underground Jubilee line train during the rush hour in the capital this morning
Heavy traffic heading into the capital on the A219 Putney Hill in South West London this morning
Commuters walk through the ticket gates at London’s Waterloo station during rush hour in the capital this morning
However, the authority said Underground use had risen 8 per cent in a week and buses by 6 per cent.
Train timetables will be restored to almost 100 per cent of pre-pandemic levels from Monday although rail insiders suspect any increase will be slight because many operators have told their staff to continue working from home for months to come.
The Mail revealed that in late July just 20 per cent of civil servants were back at their desks – the only time the Government has revealed any details at all about working patterns in the wake of the pandemic.
Whitehall’s union boss has warned that just a third of civil servants are likely to be back by Christmas.
Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that as many as 50,000 employees in the capital’s retail sector faced losing their jobs due to the lack of visitors.
She pinned some blame on a ‘huge fall-off in confidence’ in public transport.