Home Business News Time to build back a better Britain, Rishi

Rishi Sunak has a dilemma. Presenting probably the most important Budget in recent memory, the Chancellor is under massive pressure to provide ways of stimulating an economy ravaged by the Covd-19 pandemic.

In the wake of the Prime Minister’s announcement of a roadmap to normality, siren calls from within his party are calling on Rishi to help return the UK back to its relative strength of a year ago. Yet he can do more than that. He needs to remember the mantra of “Build Back Better” and grasp the once in a lifetime opportunity for supporting a Britain ready to take the leadership role in the global knowledge economy and also show our commitment to moving to net zero carbon emissions, on the eve of the COP 26 summit in Glasgow.

What the lockdown has taught us is that a large proportion of workers do not have to shlep into an office every day to do their work effectively. People can be just as efficient, if not more so, working wholly or partly from home. This has a massive potential benefit not only in wellbeing and work/life balance, but also for the environment, reducing unnecessary commuting journeys and the need for big offices, that need heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. How can Rishi help cement these benefits?

Firstly, instead of the rumoured “back to work” incentive to re-open offices, how about a grant for people to have better tech at home? And instead of ploughing multiple billions into rail and roads (I’d say cancel HS2 but it’s probably too late), spend it on ensuring everyone has decent broadband, stealing a policy that the Labour Party was derided for suggesting? Also, to ensure our children are equipped for the knowledge economy, what about a laptop for every child starting secondary school?

Secondly, Boris Johnson has highlighted the problem of our cities being hollowed out by Covid-19. To deal with the impact of people not going into the centre of towns for work, and the problems of high streets with empty shops, support the conversion of empty offices and shops into either homes, or into local work hubs that businesses can use if people need to work together, rather than having to commute into a central office. This could bring back the buzz of city centres and high streets, so helping the hard hit hospitality industry.

Thirdly, recognising that homes tend to be less well insulated and energy efficient than offices, support measures to improve home offices, either through grants or by encouraging employers to help their staff upgrade their domestic offices.

The Government has set a timetable for a return to the old England, but it has an important leadership role in transforming the country. By emphasising the commitment to net zero targets and net models of working, and by saying to business chiefs: “Come along with us on this journey to the future we want to build”, Rishi Sunak has the opportunity to be the leader we need. It’s time to grasp the nettle to build back better.

Andrew Mawson in the founder of Advanced Workplace Associates, a multi-disciplined and independent management consultancy that helps organisations make a step change in the performance of their people and workplaces.

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