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BEIS consults on life after lockdown

1 May 2020: the government has formed six working groups aimed at gathering the views of employers and employees on how workplaces can be made as safe as possible when the lockdown restrictions are finally eased.

On 7 May, the central government will consider whether the current restrictions on social and business activities can be eased or lifted. We are told its decision will be based on whether five pre-conditions have been met. However, while ministers may be reluctant to say when the lockdown will end, they are keen to discuss how it might happen.

Over the weekend, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy established six working groups, each looking at a specific sector of the economy, as defined by the type of work: outdoor work (including infrastructure and construction), leisure and wellbeing (including pubs and restaurants), non-food retail (including real estate), indoor work undertaken in close proximity (such as office work, call centres, and laboratories), factory and industry-based work (including manufacturing, food manufacturing and engineering), and distribution and logistics services (including transportation and storage). 

Each group is chaired by a minister and made up of selected representatives from businesses, business organisations and unions within that sector. The exercise aims to ensure that the views of employers and employees are factored into government thinking on making workplaces as safe as possible, now and in the future. The result will be technical direction setting out best practice for businesses to operate safely.

ICAEW chief executive Michael Izza attended the inaugural virtual meeting of the Indoor Work group on Sunday. It was chaired by the secretary of state, Alok Sharma – accompanied by one of his junior ministers, Paul Scully and by Jo Churchill, minister for prevention, public health and primary care at the Department of Health and Social Care. 

It was a wide-ranging discussion which covered many of the challenges businesses will face when offices re-open. These included the need to adapt the physical workplace to the needs of social distancing and personal protection, the peace of mind of staff (not just at work but on the journey from home and back), schools and childcare, and the technological, health and social implications of extensive use of remote working. 

Ministers were grateful for the input and the process now moves onto a series of workstreams, involving both civil servants and sector delegates, which will look to develop formal guidance with a view to it being issued ahead of the lockdown being ended.