Has Sir Patrick Vallance forced No10 to water down back to work plans? Boris Johnson to reveal ‘tidied up’ plans to get Brits back to the office TODAY – but Tory MPs demand he overrules chief scientist to save ‘dying cities’
- Boris Johnson to deliver Downing Street press conference at 11am this morning
- Prime Minister will launch a drive to get millions of workers back to their desks
- But plans may have been watered down after Sir Patrick Vallance issued warning
- Chief Scientific Adviser said ‘absolutely no reason’ to ditch working from home
- PM to also pledge extra £3bn for NHS and more lockdown powers for councils
Boris Johnson will this morning set out the next phase of his plan to get life in the UK back to normal amid claims he may have watered down his strategy to rip up work from home rules after the bombshell intervention of his top science expert.
The Prime Minister will address a Downing Street press conference at 11am when he is expected to unveil a drive to get millions of workers back to their desks.
But Sir Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, said yesterday there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to ditch the current work from home guidance, putting him on a collision course with the PM.
Tory MPs have today urged Mr Johnson to overrule Sir Patrick as they warned that without the return of commuters many town and city centres ‘will die’.
BBC’s Newsnight programme reported that Sir Patrick’s intervention had ‘changed government calculations’ on the issue.
Meanwhile, a Whitehall source said the official guidance on working from home would be ‘tidied up’ to reflect the PM’s back-to-work message, suggesting the shift in approach could be more nuanced than previously thought.
Mr Johnson will also set out an ‘aspirational’ timetable for lifting social distancing measures, but will say he expects it to be nine months before we can return to a more normal life.
New powers for councils to impose ‘lightning lockdowns’, an extra £3 billion funding for the NHS and a pledge to increase coronavirus testing capacity to 500,000 a day by the end of October will also announced by the PM.
Boris Johnson will use a Downing Street press conference this morning to set out the next stage of his plan for getting life in the UK back to normal
Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday told MPs he believed there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to chnge existing work from home guidance
Sir Patrick told the Science and Technology Select Committee yesterday afternoon that the UK is ‘still at a time when distancing measures are important’ and that working remotely ‘remains a perfectly good option’.
He then went even further as he said many companies had found working from home had not been ‘detrimental to productivity’ and as a result there is no need to move away from the policy.
He said: ‘My view on this, and I think this is a view shared by SAGE, is that we are still at a time when distancing measures are important and of the various distancing measures working from home for many companies remains a perfectly good option because it is easy to do.
‘I think a number of companies think it is actually not detrimental to productivity and in that situation absolutely no reason I can see to change it.’
His comments appeared to strike a hammer blow to Mr Johnson’s hopes of persuading many more people to physically return to their places of work.
The Government is increasingly concerned that continued working from home will hold back the nation’s economic recovery.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, urged the PM to overrule Sir Patrick for the sake of the economy.
He said: ‘The scientists have got it completely wrong from start to finish. Most of them have never run a business and it is not for them to tell employers how best to manage their staff.
‘There is a desperate need to get people back to work, back into their offices – otherwise our town and city centres will die.’
It is thought Mr Johnson will formally drop the current official guidance to ‘work from home if you can’.
However, he will stop short of ordering workers to return. Instead new guidance will tell employers to work with their staff on managing a gradual return to the workplace where possible.
The Prime Minister will today acknowledge the threat of a second wave of coronavirus this winter.
Sources said he was determined to avoid the fate of several US states which are seeing cases of the virus soar after easing restrictions too fast.
The premier is hoping an extra £3 billion of funding will ensure the health service is ready for a potential spike in infections.
It comes after a report commissioned by Sir Patrick warned there could be 120,000 hospital deaths in a ‘reasonable worst-case scenario’ this winter.
A Downing Street spokesman said: ‘Thanks to the hard work and sacrifices of the British people, the virus is under control and we have eased restrictions in a cautious, phased way.
‘But the Prime Minister is clear that now is not the time for complacency, and we must make sure our NHS is battle ready for winter.
‘Tomorrow, he will set out a broad package of measures to protect against both a possible second wave, and to ease winter pressures and keep the public safe.’
The spokesman said the immediate funding for England was new and not previously allocated, while expenditure will be set out for the devolved nations in due course.
Mr Johnson is also expected to publish an additional chapter to the Government’s ‘road map’ for recovery from the crisis.
Earlier this week Mr Johnson was warned in the report by the Academy of Medical Sciences that action must be taken now to mitigate the potential for a second peak, including scaling up the Test and Trace system.
The research said capacity for 350,000 tests per day will be needed to test individuals as they show symptoms of either Covid-19 or flu.
The latest Government figures say capacity stood at nearly 338,000, but Mr Johnson will commit to increase this to half a million by the end of October to bolster Test and Trace.
Councils are also expected to be handed powers to enable them to shut down pubs and cafes at short notice and without having to ask the government’s permission to better equip them to stop localised outbreaks.
The powers could even extend to the ability to ban weddings at short notice if there is a local spike in infections.
A Government source told The Sun: ‘Councils will be able to impose lighting lockdowns where they see fit.’
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