As roadmaps go, Boris Johnson’s “cautious” plan to ease England out of lockdown is not exactly the easiest to navigate – and there seems to be at least one major road missing.
On the upside, those with unruly kids are already rejoicing the reopening of schools on 8 March, while those with unruly hair will be eagerly anticipating getting their lockdown locks lopped off on 12 April. We can all now also look forward to 21 June as the date there should finally be a return to a semblance of normality. However, it will just be a semblance if more is not done to support the decimated retail and hospitality sectors.
Just as there has been little sharing of the pain during the latest lockdown (which has been great for supermarket chains and investment in supermarkets but devastating for hospitality and most other bricks ‘n’ mortar retailers), there does not appear to be much sharing of the gain as we come out of it.
The earliest date on which non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality can reopen is 12 April, which is weeks away. Where is the government support that hospitality needs to make it to that point, let alone to 17 May, the earliest date for the reopening of indoor hospitality?
Summing up many retail experts’ feelings, Colliers’ Dan Simms describes the roadmap as a “profoundly depressing, over-cautious and unwelcome announcement for the retail and hospitality sector” and dismisses the government support on offer as ‘merely papering over a few cracks’.
More, much more, is needed. And what of the return to the workplace? Surely this should be an arterial route on the roadmap to recovery, yet it is conspicuous by its absence. The guidance is that we should continue working from home if we can, and the assumption is we won’t go back until a review into the return to the office ends on 21 June. That just seems bizarre, especially after the government’s tub-thumping ‘back-to-work’ campaign last year. There is also the mental health impact to consider. It is going to be a horrible shock to the system when we do finally return to the office after well over a year working from home, even if it is only for a few days a week.
Let’s hope there is more detail to come. As Landsec’s Marcus Geddes asks: why can’t offices reopen in a phased way alongside the rest of the economy?
The lockdown exit plan is not the only roadmap to recovery with a key road missing. In 2019, legislation was introduced requiring planning authorities to disclose by the end of 2020 how much they receive from developers in infrastructure payments. Yet as we reveal this week, a fifth had not yet done so as of 18 February. The missing road in this instance is meaningful punishment for non-disclosure. Why should councils be more transparent if they face no penalties for not being?
Many RICS members, past presidents and industry experts are wondering if the same will prove true of RICS as it reviews its ‘purpose and relevance’. This week, we ask where it all went wrong and what its road to recovery should look like. They all stress the need for improved transparency and communication, alongside sorting out its governance issues and role overseas.
It won’t be the easiest roadmap to navigate.