Coronavirus: Businesses demand ‘no surprises’ approach to UK’s local lockdowns

Businesses have demanded a “no surprises” approach to the handling of local coronavirus lockdowns following complaints of mixed messages and a lack of communication.

The CBI, which represents 190,000 UK firms, said those caught up in renewed COVID-19 restrictions to date in places such as Leicester had rated the implementation as “mixed at best” to date – risking confusion and further damage to the UK’s economic recovery.

The business lobby group made a series of recommendations for the government to follow to help minimise disruption and keep people safe at the same time.

They included improved awareness of local data so that communities have a better understanding of decisions to impose restrictions and that announcements of such measures are only revealed during working hours.

The latter point will be widely seen as criticism of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s late-night announcement a week ago that Greater Manchester and parts of West Yorkshire were to face new social distancing measures.

The CBI argued it was important that companies could react accordingly and engage with their staff immediately.

Its other suggestions include a framework for business support, which could even offer financial help for firms struggling with staff absences due to self-isolation rules.

The CBI issued its plea as official figures next week are set to reveal the extent of the UK’s recession resulting from the COVID-19 crisis.

The Bank of England said on Thursday that it was forecasting a 9.5% slump in economic growth this year – with the current unemployment rate almost doubling to 7.5% by the end of 2020.

Separate data, due on Tuesday, will show how many people left company payrolls last month in addition to the 649,000 since the UK’s lockdown began.

CBI chief policy director, Matthew Fell, said: “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.

“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.

“Not all restrictions are one size fits all, as we have seen from the full lockdown in Leicester and the 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.”

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