This is why confidence has to be restored as the country takes its last step out of lockdown - Beckie Hart

Next week, the final shackles come off. Tomorrow will see the remaining legal restrictions removed as the country takes its last step out of lockdown. This will be a huge relief for those for whom trade and opportunity have been stunted for so long – yet it would be a mistake to assume it’s all plain sailing ahead.

Leeds city centre. Picture Tony Johnson

Major challenges remain for our region’s businesses looking to rebuild trade to pre-pandemic levels. Restoring confidence – both for customers and employees – is chief among them and must be the immediate priority for both business and Government.

Every action and intervention we take as we learn to live with the virus in the coming days must be viewed through the lens of rebuilding that confidence.

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For businesses, that means continuing to put safety at the heart of their approach – as they have since the start of the Covid crisis – while for Government it will mean supporting employers to plot a smooth course ahead.

It makes sense that the order to work from home if possible is removed at this stage. The reality is that many firms are well-advanced in their plans and are proceeding with hybrid working models, just as the Government advises.

It is now mission critical that the Government, with the support of business, does all it can to build confidence in the reopening.

The CBI has identified six confidence-building measures to ease the journey to recovery.

Firstly, aligning self-isolation changes to the move to step four would help, along with an increase in the flexibility within the testing system itself. This can combine to reduce the impact of staff shortages, which are already hindering businesses’ ability to trade their way to recovery – particular for firms in hospitality.

Second, Government must also spell out a future vision for workplace testing beyond July, which should include funding.

Third, while the Transport Secretary made clear his support for those businesses which make masks a condition of carriage, compliance should be kept under review.

Number four – businesses, especially SMEs will need guidance on what they must do now. Firms will naturally do all they can to keep employees and customers safe and know consultation with staff will be a key tool. But there can be no grey areas in the expectations upon firms, which means any health and safety rules, risk assessments and potential for inadvertent discrimination must be clearly and rapidly communicated.

Fifth is support for firms to implement any measures required to cut risks. The HSE must help businesses to understand how to assess dangers within their own working environment, as well as the impact of measures like improved ventilation.

Finally, it is incumbent upon businesses to share examples of good practice, and to be open to that learning. Firms going the extra mile to maintain testing or implement safety measures will ensure workers and customers can engage with confidence.

We must get this right. It will take concerted efforts by both Government and business to do so – but the rewards for success are substantial.

After more than 15 months of struggle, this is our opportunity to restore wind in the sails of our economy. But this only happens if people have the confidence to travel, to go shopping, to eat out. We must give them that confidence.

Then, at last, we really will be able to put the worst of the pandemic behind us and look to build a sustainable economic recovery.

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Thank you

James Mitchinson