'Return to the office? Sort out our transport links first' - Ismail Mulla

“I prophesise that people will come back to the office.”

Boris Johnson lost his place, rambled on about Peppa Pig World and started making childlike car noises.

Those were the words of the Prime Minister during his shambolic speech to the CBI a week ago.

Lost amidst the absurd delivery of the speech in which Boris Johnson lost his place, rambled on about Peppa Pig World and started making childlike care noises was him returning to what is fast becoming one of his greatest hits. And that is lecturing remote workers about why they should return to offices.

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“I know that there are some people who think that working habits have been remade by the pandemic and that everyone will be working only on Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday in an acronym I won’t repeat,” he said.

The implications are clear from his words. People working from home are not actually working. Or if they are, then they’re not as productive. The rhetoric is always ‘return to work’ not ‘return to offices’.

The PM went on to add that “there are also sound evolutionary reasons why Mother Nature does not like working from home”.

I don’t know, I’d hazard a guess that Mother Nature quite enjoyed not having roads clogged up with cars.

You certainly couldn’t rely on our broken public transport system across the North of England.

I’ve got a confession to make. I am one of those people working from home. I recognise that it’s a privilege. Many other people can’t work from home whether that’s because of the nature of their jobs or because they simply don’t have the environment to be productive.

However, in recent months I have started getting out more and more for purposes of work.

Recently, I was at the Great Northern Conference. The big talking point there was transport. Leaders from across the political spectrum agreed that rail links simply were not up to the task.

After finishing up at the conference, I walked down to Sheffield station to get home after a long day. What I was greeted with was a board full of delays.

The feeling I had was of overwhelming nostalgia. It brought back memories of standing on cold platforms praying that I would get home at a reasonable hour.

Memories of having to trudge down to catch a bus, that would take around five times as long to make the journey, when it became clear that the phantom train would not appear at all.

It brought back images of people jostling desperately to get onto already crammed carriages.

These were all problems before the pandemic and will be problems once we get clear of Covid-19.

The Integrated Rail Plan is a clear indication that the Government doesn’t care about transport in the regions.

The bitter irony of this of course is that it badly affects productivity. I still remember how bad it was before the first lockdown.

I would end up being late to meetings or coming into the newsroom flustered and in a gloomy mood.

Contrary to some people’s perceptions, the majority of employees just want to get on with their work and do as good a job as they can. By overlooking our transport needs, you create an unfair handicap.

Bradford has the youngest population in the country, yet it has been overlooked. How are we going to get these young people into offices without decent transport links?

I smile every time I see my colleague and ace cartoonist Graeme Bandeira tweeting a picture of his end of week pint.

Despite not being a drinker myself, I’m happy that he doesn’t have to clamber on to a rickety carriage that may or may not appear.

Sometimes, we’ll message each other to see how the other is doing. Our response is always the same and that is that we certainly don’t miss rail travel.

Don’t get me wrong, I miss seeing my colleagues and grabbing a coffee but I dread having to brave public transport.

This is a problem that the Government must simply fix. The Integrated Rail Plan was a squandered opportunity.

Only then will we take lectures from the Government on where we work from. The PM can try to manifest a mass return to offices all he wants but he would be well served at giving us the tools needed to sort out our public transport system.


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Thank you

James Mitchinson