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Open Letter: Challenge to Business from Mayor James Palmer and Business Board Chair, Austen Adams

6 May 2020

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This Sunday, the Government is expected to announce a staggered lifting of lockdown. This is the news that many have longed to hear - but it’s down to each of us to take responsibility for ourselves, and for others, as we cautiously return to commercial, social and public life.

Thankfully, experts say the infection has peaked and we can now move forward to reboot the economy in the safest way possible. But nobody should relax; the threat remains high and we must adapt to having the virus as an unseen presence among us. We must maintain high standards of hygiene and observe physical distancing when we are out and about.

Business is the new frontline. The challenge is for companies to step up and take a strong lead in getting us back to work safely.  They need to plan how they will manage virus-aware distancing in the workplace.  PPE? Installation of screens? How and when their staff work?   There’s a lot to keep HR managers up at night, but they’ll crack it. Companies will always have a duty to do everything reasonable to keep their workers, customers, and visitors secure.

So, what will next stage look like?  In a nutshell, spacing and pacing. 

Distancing on public transport will reduce capacity, and people will be less inclined to travel on it. That may mean greater use of cars.  Therefore, we need employers to pace the commute, adopting flexible shift patterns with starts between 7-11am and clock-offs between 15.00-22.00pm. This will also mean fewer staff at risk in the workplace at any one time.

If people can work from home, they should; it will keep them safer and reduce pressure on transport. Shops should also consider phased opening, after the morning travel times. It is vital that we do what we can to maintain social distancing and take steps to prevent high concentrations of people amassing in peak time periods. We urge all businesses in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough to develop these plans as soon as possible, so when the Prime Minister announces that it is time to reopen the economy, we are ready.

Just as lockdown successfully flattened the spike of infection rates and helped our NHS cope, spreading the commute time will flatten the rush hour peak so roads and public transport will be able to cope, especially if we can get pop-up cycle routes and more people on their bikes.

As Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, I’ve been asked by the Minister of State for Regional Growth and Local Government Robert Jenrick to lead on getting our city centres ready for the ‘Unlockdown’.

We have set up a taskforce to co-ordinate the reopening of shops, and plan around pedestrian movement, parking, management of on-street queues, street trading, sanitizing, and even anti-social behaviour.  We will implement whatever can be done locally and involve the Government in sorting things out that can’t.  And we’ll help companies get clarity on measures they need to take to re-open, guidance on safe number of ‘distanced customers’, on what cleaning must be done, and signposting them to advice in getting recovery-ready.

Working in close partnership with the Combined Authority’s Business Board, local councils, and civil contingency and resilience groups, we’ve been planning for recovery all during the lockdown.   Thanks to Zoom, the Mayor has had regular discussions with the Prime Minister and ministers, and with England’s other eight ‘Metro Mayors’, as well as having weekly meetings of the Mayor’s Forum to collect and sift insights and demands from grassroots business and industry.                                           

We are confident that our region is recovery-ready and once lockdown is lifted, we’ll come out match-fit and eager for action. But health and safety remain top priority – we must stay virus-vigilant as we resume business as usual, and at last feel free to get out more.  Our challenge to business is to take the flexible approach we have all been applying to get through this, and we will come out of this all the sooner, 

James Palmer, Mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough, Austen Adams, Chair, The Business Board