In Brief

CBI chief warns of ‘ghost towns’ as UK workers stay away from offices

Carolyn Fairbairn urges the government to build confidence for firms and employees

Confederation of British Industry (CBI) director-general Carolyn Fairbairn has urged Boris Johnson to work with businesses and bring the UK’s offices “back to life”.

Warning that commercial centres could become “ghost towns”, the Daily Mail reports that Fairbairn is calling on the prime minister and his government to build confidence so workers feel safe returning to their desks.   

In a column for the Mail, she wrote: “Decisions taken over the next few weeks will shape our economy for a decade. Getting schools back is an essential component. But as important will be building the right environment to get people back into offices and workplaces. 

“The UK’s offices are vital drivers of our economy. They support thousands of local firms, from drycleaners to sandwich bars. They help train and develop young people. And they foster better work and productivity for many kinds of business.

“The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade. This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities.”

While acknowledging that remote working has been a “resounding success” for many, Fairburn adds that there are serious downsides to flexible arrangements. 

“We don’t want to see a new divide in our society - between those who can and can’t work from the safety and comfort of their homes,” she says. “For all these reasons we need more people to feel it is safe and possible to go back into their places of work. 

“This is why we are today calling on the prime minister and his government to do more to build confidence around getting people back into offices and workplaces.

“More flexible working is indisputably a good thing for our economy and quality of life, but we must have a balance.

“It’s time for the UK to bring its workplaces back to life, or we will look back with regret at the jobs lost, training missed, and communities harmed. We ask the government to work with business to build confidence in returning to offices, starting now.”

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