Business travel firms call for government help to avoid 10,000 job cuts

Workers were only slowly returning to offices around England on Monday after the government relaxed its guidance about working from home during the coronavirus pandemic. In the center of London footfall was only 2 per cent higher on Monday compared with last week, according to data collected by the New West End Company, reflecting how the number of office workers and visitors remained subdued. Footfall was 68 per cent lower compared with this time last year. Boris Johnson last month announced a relaxation of the official guidance put in place at the start of the Covid-19 crisis that many people should work from home if possible, with the change taking effect on Monday. The prime minister has encouraged employers to bring staff back to their offices, partly because they are seen as crucial to helping struggling hospitality businesses and other services companies in city centers and town high streets.

The UK’s business travel sector has called on the government to provide it with an emergency rescue package to help prevent up to 10,000 jobs being lost this year.

The chief executive of industry body the Business Travel Association (BTA) has written to chancellor Rishi Sunak, transport secretary Grant Shapps, and business secretary Alok Sharma to lay out the deal.

“Targeted and limited Government backing for the business travel sector will not only save many jobs in our industry but underpin one of the vital support pillars for British business as a whole”, wrote Clive Wratten.

Under the deal, the BTA has called on the government to provide financial support to cover 60 percent of the salaries of employees in business travel companies until at least the end of 2020.

This will then be repaid by those companies through 10 per cent of profits each quarter. 

It also asked for a 12-month business rate holiday to provide firms with vitally needed liquidity. 

Finally, it called for a temporary, year-long suspension of air passenger duty to provide an immediate stimulus for travel.

The BTA also said that with the Premium Economy class should no longer be taxed in the same band as First and Business Class.

When the tax is restored in a year’s time, the BTA is also calling for the government to “ringfence” 50 per cent of it for investment in environmental measures such as the development of aviation biofuels.

Wratten added: “Our industry plays a crucial role in helping British business travel and trade and, until demand returns, we urgently need government support to help us survive.”

According to the BTA, the business travel industry providing a £220bn a year contribution to UK GDP.

 London firms are starting to bring their staff back to the workplace after more than four months of remote working due to the pandemic. 

A survey of 100 business leaders conducted by London First reveals a phased return of staff is underway for three-quarters of London firms.

The survey, which was carried out last week, found that 74 per cent of businesses already have a small percentage of staff – between 0 and 20 per cent – back, while only seven per cent have no one back. 

Remote working was quickly introduced by companies when the government imposed a national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. While some firms have adjusted seamlessly to the shift to working from home, the Prime Minister has pushed for employees to return to the office.

Last month Boris Johnson appealed for people to return to work if they can. “I think it’s very important that people should try to lead their lives more normally,” he said.

The pandemic seems to have done little to dent the attraction of the capital for the vast majority of firms, with 42 per cent of firms retaining all of their workspace in the capital.

The majority of firms recognize staff remains cautious, so 78 per cent have said they have made their workplaces Covid-secure. This includes 86 per cent of firms redesigning office spaces, with just over two-thirds looking to close communal spaces. A quarter of companies will require their employees to wear face masks. 

But caution persists and the biggest barriers for employees returning are concerns over transport – 95 per cent – and childcare – 68 per cent. i

Paul Drechsler, chair of London First welcomed firms’ approach to making workplaces secure. 

“Now it’s up to the government to end the messaging muddle and work flat out with public transport operators to boost confidence in the transport system,” he said.

“The public needs to know the best time to travel and the safety measures in place, backed up by real-time data on how busy it is at any given time.”

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