High street chains have issued a united cry for help, warning that working from home has triggered an ‘economic emergency’.
In a joint letter to the Prime Minister, bosses said the failure to get staff back to the office posed an ‘existential’ threat to many businesses.
The letter, seen by the Mail, was signed by more than 80 chief executives, including the heads of Greene King, Pizza Express, Caffe Nero and Marriott Hotels.
It was organised by the chief executive of UK Hospitality, which represents 700 businesses and 3million workers.
High street chains have issued a united cry for help, warning that working from home has triggered an ‘economic emergency’. Pictured: An almost deserted Piccadilly Circus in London
Their efforts were supported by the British Retail Consortium, which represents 5,000 businesses. The signatories employ close to half a million people.
Their letter, sent to Boris Johnson earlier this week, said: ‘Before Covid, half a million workers came to central London every day but many businesses have no immediate plans for staff to return to offices.
‘This has existential risks for businesses in hospitality and its supply chain, as well as retail, leisure and entertainment, which combined employ around 20 per cent of Londoners.
Its signatories include D&D chairman Des Gunewardena (right), whose firm has restaurants in Manchester, Leeds and London, and Gerry Ford (left), founder and chief executive of Caffe Nero
‘Action to build public trust to levels that will trigger a return of safe travel into central London has become a social and economic emergency… residents and workers need to be persuaded that public transport is safe and their workplaces are safe.’
The letter also warned of the devastating effects of a collapse in tourism.
It called for a blizzard of promotions and campaigns to promote the message that Britain is ‘open for business, safe and welcoming’.
Flexible season tickets plan
Rail companies are set to offer flexible season tickets to encourage more workers to get back to offices, Boris Johnson has said.
The Prime Minister told MPs the Government was working with rail firms to provide tickets for those who will not be in the office five days a week.
Many offices will not be able to accommodate all their workers at the same time because of social distancing.
One idea mooted for flexible season tickets is that they could be bought to cover three days instead of a full week.
At Prime Minister’s Questions Tory MP Damian Green urged Mr Johnson ‘to encourage the rail industry to introduce flexible season tickets immediately’ to help office staff return.
The Prime Minister replied that the Government was working with firms on tickets that would ‘enable people to get back to work in a flexible way’.
Failure to step up current efforts ‘will see businesses fail and the triggering of an economic downward spiral’, the letter added.
Its signatories include D&D chairman Des Gunewardena, whose firm has restaurants in Manchester, Leeds and London.
He said of the letter: ‘It’s a cry for help. It’s blindingly obvious that there is a short-term problem because people aren’t in their offices and there are no tourists.
‘There is a hole there for the little cafes, where you get shoes mended… they are seriously affected.’
Gerry Ford, founder and chief executive of Caffe Nero, said: ‘We need a renewed and extended government push in the autumn and beyond to encourage people back to these urban locations.
‘If not, there is a very serious risk to businesses’ ability to trade and protect jobs.’
Official data shows that 730,000 jobs have already been lost since the coronavirus crisis hit Britain in March.
Some forecasts suggest unemployment could rise to 3.5million by Christmas as the furlough scheme comes to an end.
The Prime Minister claimed earlier this week that ‘large numbers’ are returning to offices after schools began to reopen on Tuesday.
However, businesses in the capital expect just one in seven firms to bring the majority of staff back to the office by the end of September.
Bank of England official Alex Brazier warned MPs yesterday that a ‘sharp return’ was still impossible for many due to ‘dense office environments’.
He told the Treasury select committee: ‘I feel safe coming to work, but I can quite understand why many people might not.
‘It’s not possible to use office space, particularly in central London and places like it, with the intensity we used to use it.
‘It’s actually not possible to bring lots of people back very suddenly.
‘We can’t expect to see a sudden and sharp return of lots of people to very dense office environments that we were used to. We should expect a more phased return.’