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No10 urges workers to tell bosses if they want to come back to the office amid home working surge

Downing Street said today workers who want to return to their workplace should put pressure on their bosses to allow it.

No10 said businesses had an obligation to offer staff ‘Covid-secure workplaces’ if they cannot work from home amid reports many City firms are plotting to retain home working into 2021. 

NatWest is among banks that has told staff they will not return to offices in London and elsewhere this year, while Virgin Money is considering not bringing back some workers at all.

Additionally, the head of human resources at Swiss-owned bank UBS predicted that the future would see more flexible working patterns, including more working from home.

The rise in home working sparked fears for the future of businesses and workers in ancillary service industries reliant on commuters. 

But many offices will struggle to bring all their workers back to workplaces because of current social distancing rules. 

Asked if the return of English schools next week should herald a wider return to work, the Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said:  ‘We have been clear that if you can’t work from home you should speak to your employer and it is up to employers to provide Covid-secure workplaces so people can attend work where needed.’

Nat West Group has told told City staff not to expect a return to the office this year, the Financial Times reported.

It also claimed Virgin Money’s non customer-facing staff have been told they may work from home the majority of the time.

Lloyds Bank is also said to be examining the best use of its office space.

Stefan Seiler, the human resources chief at Swiss bank UBS told the FT: ‘We have proven that working from home is possible for most roles.

‘What is clear is that there will be more working from home, we will see more flexible work arrangements.’ 

It came as London mayor Sadiq Khan faced criticism over his perceived failure to persuade people to return to their places of work.

Natwest announced in July that said that an estimated 50,000 of its employees will work from home into 2021.

Earlier this month it was revealed fewer British office workers have returned to their workplace than in any other major European country.

Little more than a third (34 per cent) of UK staff were back at their desks, with the remainder continuing to work from home.

This contrasted with 83 per cent of French office staff and 70 per cent of Germans, according to a survey by researchers at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

However, their analysis found that Britons who have returned to their offices are doing so for more days a week than continental rivals.

Almost half (46 per cent) of UK workers who have returned are working at least five days a week from their office, far more than in France, Germany, Italy or Spain.

The figures come amid a high street bloodbath with retailers experiencing massively reduced footfall.

Nicola Sturgeon today signalled secondary school pupils and staff in Scotland will be asked to wear face masks when they travel between classes – as Number 10 ruled out a similar move in England. 

The Scottish First Minister said her government is consulting on exactly when and where the coverings will be required as she cited concerns about ventilation issues in corridors and communal areas. 

However, Downing Street said there are ‘no plans’ for the UK Government to change its approach to the issue in England. 

The Prime Minister’s deputy official spokesman said the wearing of masks would risk ‘obstructing communication’ while ministers insisted face coverings are ‘not necessary’ if guidance on school hygiene is followed. 

The difference in approach is likely to cause confusion among parents and pupils as all four of the home nations try to get schools back up and running. 

Education is a devolved issue which means the administrations in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland can adopt their own policies.  

The UK government’s current guidance for England does not recommend teachers or pupils should wear face masks. 

But Ms Sturgeon told her daily coronavirus briefing that Scotland’s Education Secretary John Swinney is in the final stages of consulting with teachers and councils on the issue.

She said recommendations would not include pupils wearing masks while in the classroom.

The move follows requests from some schools north of the border for pupils to wear face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon said: ‘We’re consulting on this specific measure because, firstly, mixing between different groups is more likely in corridors and communal areas – increasing the potential for transmission.

‘Secondly, crowding and close contact in these areas is more likely and voices could be raised, resulting in greater potential for creating aerosol transmission.

‘Finally, there’s also less scope for ventilation in these areas.’

She said decisions are yet to be made on whether the guidance would apply to school transport and that decision will be made in the coming days.

Asked if the UK Government would follow Ms Sturgeon’s lead on the issue, the PM’s deputy official spokesman said: ‘There are no plans to review the guidance on face coverings in schools… we are conscious of the fact that it would obstruct communication between teachers and pupils.’

Earlier, the UK Government’s Schools Minister Nick Gibb had said masks are ‘not necessary’ for teachers or pupils.   

He told the BBC: ‘We are always led by the scientific advice. What the current advice is is that if a school puts in place the measures that are in the guidance that we issued in early July, all of the hygiene pleasures I have been talking about, then masks are not necessary for staff or pupils.’

Asked if he believed the guidance could change, he said: ‘We always listen to whatever the current advice is from Public Health England, the chief medical officers, we always adhere to that advice.’ 

Unison is one a number of unions who have called for teachers to be allowed to wear a mask or face covering because of staff safety concerns.

‘It’s still unclear why government guidance won’t allow them, when they’re recommended for other workplaces,’ the union said. 

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