What’s the justification for the Work From Home directive & is it backed by data?

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In Scotland, we’re all too familiar with tighter restrictions than England in light of Covid.  Yesterday, nightclubs re-opened, still with Covid passports or negative LFD tests and face masks required.  Sports and indoor leisure facilities, live events and many other sectors have had restrictions lifted with the same requirements.  The Work From Home (WFH) directive is ongoing, but the impact this is having on many businesses is considerable.

SAGE published the results of a Virus Watch (run by UCL and the NHS) study earlier in January which found that shopping posed the biggest risk of catching Covid outside the home, and is second only to public transport when severe restrictions are imposed.  Cinemas, pubs, clubs, sports events, public transport and the workplace are all less risky when no restrictions are in place, according to experts.

The study also found that shops accounted for the largest numbers of Covid-19 cases outside the home, whether there are restrictions or not.

“Both during periods of intense restrictions and no restrictions, shopping accounted for the highest proportion of infections acquired outside the home,” according to the paper, dated December 20, by Dr Susan Hopkins and Professor Andrew Hayward, both of University College London.

The paper looked at various non-household activities of 10,849 people over the age of 16, during the second wave of the pandemic from October 2020 to April 2021, when there were significant restrictions in place, and during September and November 2021, when there were no restrictions in place in England and fewer in Scotland.

It found that during times of severe restrictions, going shopping more than once a week increased the risk of catching Covid-19 by 69 per cent, while using public transport more than once a week increased the risk by 82 per cent.  In contrast, working in the office, instead of from home, increased the risk by 20 per cent.

With the Scottish Government regularly telling us that Scotland is leading the 4 UK nations in terms of vaccine delivery, this begs the question why the WFH directive is ongoing.  According to ONS figures, the population of Scotland in 2022 is estimated to be 5.51 million.  Of those, 4,108,252 have received their second vaccine dose 3,258,073 have received a third dose or booster.  With so many people vaccinated, the suggested tsunami of cases having never materialised and the risks of vaccine spread being so low in the workplace, what is the reasoning behind the WFH directive still in place?

In Scotland, mandatory protective measures are being reviewed on a three weekly basis to ensure they remain proportionate.   Where is the data to back up the WFH decision-making by Scottish ministers?

It has also come to light that one of the reasons Scots are being encouraged to continue to work from home is to tackle pollution.  The new Transport Scotland strategy states that WFH could help the environment by reducing car use.  The plan could see the end of large city centre offices and see more Scots working from home or remotely in ‘local government approved hubs’.

The potential implications of working in ‘hubs’ for many sectors calls into question a whole raft of concerns including confidentiality, competing businesses working in the same hub, not to mention the challenges which may arise in terms of creating and maintaining company culture.  Hubs may work well in the public sector, but would they work and be welcomed by the private sector?

The fourth Medium Term Financial Strategy (MTFS) (which provides the context for the Scottish Budget and the Scottish Parliament) was published by the Scottish Government on 9th December 2021. The Scottish Government states:

“Trading conditions remain challenging for businesses at this stage of the pandemic, as supply chain disruption and inflationary pressures on input costs have intensified and have presented new cash flow challenges for many businesses. Businesses have also been more immediately exposed to the recent sharp rise in energy costs, particularly those without access to financial instruments that can help hedge or manage such risks.”

“We also continue to invest in our infrastructure to boost economic wellbeing, prosperity and employment, with large-scale investment in new, emerging and high-value sectors – providing businesses with the confidence to grow and diversify.”

It’s time for the Scottish Government to listen to Scottish businesses and appreciate the responsible approaches and attitudes shown by the vast majority of companies throughout the pandemic.  We have continuously heard since the onset of Covid that the Scottish Government would treat us like adults, so why is that not happening?  Let business owners and leaders decide what working model is most appropriate for their companies.  Those decisions will be made with due care and responsibility to ensure the safety and protection of their valued and hard working teams and their families.

The impact of ongoing restrictions is extremely concerning and hugely damaging, both in terms of mental health implications, business growth and will ultimately impact on Scottish economic recovery.


Categories: Coronavirus