Britain’s rush hour started to get back to normal again today as the return to work following the coronavirus lockdown was stepped up – with more than 370 jams totalling 200 miles across London during rush hour.
Congestion levels on the roads in the capital were at 36 per cent at 8am today according to TomTom data, up from 31 per cent this time last week – which is a rise of five percentage points or 16 per cent (a sixth).
However, traffic congestion in London is still well below the average level of 67 per cent last year. Elsewhere, the figure in Birmingham was at 23 per cent at 8am, which was down from 25 per cent at the same time last week.
Meanwhile major train stations in the capital still appeared to be empty, with photographs taken during rush hour at the London terminals of Victoria, Waterloo and King’s Cross showing hardly anyone on the concourse.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said employees were physically going back into work in ‘huge numbers’ today, telling the Cabinet: ‘People are going back to the office in huge numbers across our country, and quite right too.
‘And, of course, we know that there is still going to be more of this disease, this wretched Covid, still to come. And although we know there’ll be more outbreaks, we’re also absolutely confident that we are going to be able to deal with those outbreaks, and bit by bit this incredible country is getting back on its feet.’
It comes as the school run returned with millions of children returning to classrooms this week – many for the first time in almost six months. Forty per cent of schools in England are opening today, with the rest later this week.
Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said up to 50,000 people in the capital’s retail sector faced losing their jobs due to a lack of visitors, with the loss of foreign tourists majorly impacting the economy.
But there was some good news as shopper numbers across UK retail destinations rose 6 per cent in the week to August 29 versus the week before, helped by the final full week of the Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme.
Data from Springboard found all three destination types benefited, with shopping malls, which were also boosted by wet weather, seeing an increase of 9.1 per cent, high streets up 4.8 per cent and retail parks up 5 per cent.
Springboard said the numbers represented an annual decline of 26.1 per cent – although this an improvement on the year-on-year drop of 30.7 per cent in the previous week.
A London-based Twitter user posted this picture at about 8.30am today, saying: ‘Looks like everyone’s back to work then!’
Congestion levels on the roads in London were at 36 per cent at 8am today according to TomTom data (red line) , up from 31 per cent this time last week (red dotted line) – but still well below the average level of 67 per cent last year (blue line)
A Google Traffic map shows how many roads around the capital were busy at 8.30am this morning as people go to work
City workers cross London Bridge at 8.30am this morning as many commuters head back to work in the capital today
One Twitter user posted a photograph of commuters queuing at London Bridge Underground station at 7.51am this morning
A Twitter user’s image of a busy London Overground train today, saying there were ’11 people crammed in by the doors’
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Aiken said: ‘Almost half of the £10 billion annual spend in the West End is from overseas travellers and then the lack of office workers who have not been back at their desks since March, that has a huge effect on the overall turnover of West End shops and hospitality.
‘Between about 70 to 80 per cent – you’re basically looking at about 50,000 job losses retail job losses in West End retail alone.’
‘I’m SCARED and so are the students’: New teacher on his first day tells of fear at ‘no PPE’ in school where ‘social-distancing is impossible’ as millions of pupils in England and Wales return
Adam Woodward, 23, a Labour supporter who is starting teaching English at a college in Barnsley today, tweeted: ‘I am scared and so are the students’
A newly-qualified teacher today revealed his fear at being back in school with no personal protective equipment on his first day in the job as millions of children in England and Wales returned to classes from the Covid-19 lockdown for the first time in six months.
Labour supporter Adam Woodward, 23, who is starting teaching at Horizon Community College in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, tweeted: ‘I’m about to begin my career as an NQT (newly qualified teacher) English teacher.
‘I will be teaching with no PPE, in an environment where social distancing is impossible. I am scared and so are the students. This Government has failed me and every child in every school. Shame on them.’
The Sheffield Hallam University graduate wrote about his fears as he posted a selfie of himself in a mask on a Northern Rail train this morning, while a study revealed pupils are three months behind since lockdown with boys and the poorer students hardest hit.
Government guidance states there is no general need for children to wear masks in schools, while the college’s rules state that any pupils who arrive wearing face coverings must take it off at the entrance.
In a crucial moment for Boris Johnson’s drive to get the country back to ‘normal’, around 40 per cent of schools in England open today – with the rest later in the week.
Ms Aiken said she suspected a ‘huge fall off in confidence’ regarding the perceived safety of public transport was partly behind the drop in shoppers, adding: ‘We’ve got to get that back, we’ve got to get businesses, the Mayor of London and Government to work together to provide that confidence to get people back in.’
A string of top firms across the country revealed their staff were pouring back into the office, with others saying they are considering plans to lure workers from their homes.
In a significant boost to the campaign to entice more office workers into city centres, many companies said they had recorded an uptick in employees getting back to their desks.
But Boris Johnson’s drive to get Whitehall back to work suffered a fresh blow as the head of the civil servants’ union threatened strikes if members were forced back to work before it is deemed safe.
Following a lockdown in which more than 95 per cent of civil servants worked from home, each Government department was asked in July to set rolling targets for the return.
Mr Johnson is expected to tell ministers to accelerate the process this week, following a ‘slow’ response.
He is said to believe civil servants should ‘set an example’ to the rest of the country.
But Mark Serwotka, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.’
Environment Secretary George Eustice yesterday appeared to undermine the initiative by revealing he had no ‘target’, adding: ‘We won’t get a 100 per cent return to work.’
Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was happy for officials to stay at home if they got the job done.
The news comes in a Daily Mail audit of 30 FTSE 100 and top firms, representing more than 150,000 employees.
High street chain Boots was among those recording a steady rise in attendance, with around a third of its office staff now back at their desks at least a few days a week.
No cases of Covid-19 have been recorded among this cohort.
In a further boost, the boss of recruitment giant Hays vowed there would be no ‘turning our back on the office’.
Alistair Cox yesterday said full-time remote working was unlikely to become ‘a permanent thing’.
But he also predicted offices will be closed as companies assess whether to switch permanently to a ‘hybrid’ model, where home and office working are balanced.
On Sunday it emerged Capita, one of the UK’s biggest employers, will become the first major British firm to pull out of city and town centres by closing nearly 100 offices.
The Government contractor – which collects the BBC licence fee and runs the London congestion charge – is set to close more than a third of its 250 offices across Britain; its 45,000 UK staff will continue to work from home.
London Waterloo train station, which is Britain’s busiest train station, was still very quiet shortly before 8am this morning
London Victoria train station appeared to be mostly empty at 7.30am today, despite it being the UK’s second busiest station
A near-empty London King’s Cross train station at 8.30am this morning as commuters continue to shun trains
An empty London Paddington station is pictured towards the end of rush hour at 9.30am this morning
Nobody can be seen on this Central line train from White City into London this morning despite it being rush hour at 8am
People go through the ticket barriers as they travel through London Waterloo station during rush hour this morning
A very quiet southbound platform at Baker Street station in London on the Bakerloo line at about 8.30am this morning
Commuter Guy Peppiatt said there was only one other person in his Tube carriage on the Circle line shortly before 10am today
An empty Circle and Hammersmith & City line platform at Baker Street station in Central London at 7.45am this morning
A mostly empty platform at East Finchley on the London Underground’s Northern line at about 7.45am this morning
Rob Walsh tweeted this picture of an empty Earlswood railway station in Surrey at 7.40am today, tweeting: ‘The back to work messaging might need beefing up! Peak time train to London Bridge. Platform usually v busy. Ten passengers today’
Andy Lulham photographed an empty Greater Anglia train at 8am today, saying he ‘missed the early train to London so had to take the busy one’
The news will be a major blow to Boris Johnson’s back to work campaign, which is to be launched this week.
Civil servants ‘may strike’ if they are forced to return to work
Boris Johnson’s drive to get Whitehall back to work suffered a fresh blow yesterday as the head of the civil servants’ union threatened strikes if members were forced back to work before it is deemed safe.
Following a lockdown in which more than 95 per cent of civil servants worked from home, each Government department was asked in July to set rolling targets for the return. Mr Johnson is expected to tell ministers to accelerate the process this week, following a ‘slow’ response.
He is said to believe civil servants should ‘set an example’ to the rest of the country. But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.’
On Sunday it also emerged that BP is planning to sell its central London headquarters as part of a permanent shift in working patterns.
The developments will heighten fears for city centre businesses, from sandwich shops and pubs to dry cleaners and hairdressers, which rely on footfall from offices.
Last week CBI boss Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said working from home had turned some commercial centres into ‘ghost towns’.
But in a glimmer of hope, several firms surveyed by the Mail said either workers were starting to trickle back or that plans were being drawn-up for bigger increases.
Many said numbers returning will rest on the Government’s success at getting children back to school this week.
Auditing giant PricewaterhouseCoopers said around a third of its 24,700 office workers were now spending at least some time at their desks and that this was increasing.
And insurance giant Aviva expects numbers at desks to double in the coming weeks.
Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘The Government has to lead the way and tell civil servants and companies ‘get back to work’.’
Derek Ray-Hill, from Cities Restart – a venture being launched next month to get people back to work, said: ‘Business leaders need to put on a mask, wash their hands and get back to work.
‘They can’t keep waiting for someone else to take the lead.’
It comes after figures last week revealed only 17 per cent of staff have returned to work in the 63 biggest cities. Capita and BP did not respond to requests for comment.
One in six parents in England and Wales are ‘seriously considering’ keeping their children out of school
One in six parents in England and Wales are ‘seriously considering’ keeping their children out of school, a poll found today.
Some 17 per cent are so worried about their sons and daughters going back into the classroom that they might not let them go in, including 6 per cent who say they are ‘very seriously’ considering keeping them at home.
The Parents Omnibus survey conducted by YouGov interviewed 653 parents of school-age children, aged between four and 16, in England and Wales.
However, 70 per cent of them are either not very seriously contemplating keeping their children at home, while 53 per cent are not considering it at all.
The study also found that nearly half of parents (47 per cent) think that masks should be worn, compared to 36 per cent who are opposed.
Meanwhile almost half of parents (48 per cent) think it is unfair for parents to be fined for keeping their children out of school if they are scared about coronavirus, although nearly four in ten (39 per cent) think it is justified.