What does Boris Johnson’s lockdown speech mean for small businesses?

On Sunday 10 May, Boris Johnson delivered his highly anticipated lockdown speech on how Britain intends to ‘unlock the economy’.

There was a lot of speculation prior to the announcement, particularly in regards to the reopening of schools, face masks and stringent guidelines on social distancing and hygiene for businesses that could reopen.

The speech was the fourth address to the nation in the last six weeks – and despite it’s hype, it was still lacking a lot of clarity.

With the unveiling of the new ‘stay alert’ government slogan, the overall message was one of caution still. The biggest change for business owners is that those who can’t work from home are now being “actively encouraged to return to work”.

So what does this mean for businesses right now? But also how can you prepare for the next phases of the government plan?

(This piece will be updated once more information is available).

Disparity across the United Kingdom

A crucial point to note is that the UK is now pulling in different directions. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, lockdown was extended with just small “nuanced changes”.

The changes outlined in this piece relate specifically to the plan for England.

A three step plan

As had been anticipated, Johnson unveiled a three step plan for the next couple of months in England.

Phase 1: Go to work if you can’t work from home from Monday 11 May. From Wednesday, unlimited amounts of exercise.

Phase 2: Phased reopening of shops and of schools (with reception, year one and year six returning initially).

Phase 3: By July at the earliest, hope to reopen some of the hospitality industry (provided it is safe and social distancing can be enforced).

Reopening by industry

There wasn’t much detail on a sector-breakdown, but the speech specifically referenced construction and manufacturing, so if you’re a small business owner in these industries, theoretically your business can begin to operate again from tomorrow (if it’s not currently).

Clearly, this will only be possible if you are able to guarantee employee safety and wellbeing and have sufficient measures in place to ensure social distancing.

Johnson insisted that the government is working to establish new guidances for employers to make workplaces “Covid secure” so more details will follow.

Some retail shops may be able to open from June, and by July the hospitality industry could begin to reopen. If you run a business in these sectors, now is the time to start ensuring you have adequate measures in place to operate safely, so that you can start trading again as soon as the government gives the green light.

Travel

The big caveat on the return to work message was how you can get to your job.

Where possible, people should travel by car or by bicycle or walking, as public transport will need to adhere to social distancing measures (which seriously limits its capacity).

Johnson’s speech didn’t make it clear what the implications will be if you have staff you want to return to work but they don’t have the means to safely travel.

While you may be keen to get your business up and running again, staff wellbeing is imperative so you will need a plan in place to tackle travel logistics.

Modifying workplaces

As mentioned above, new guidance for employers on how to make workplaces safe is coming. There are clearly some obvious measures to consider such as perspex screens and other adaptations to workstations, rotation of staff (and changes in hours) to limit the number of people working at once, and plenty of sanitiser, but changes will be very dependent on your business type, location and size.

The key thing is that at the moment a lot of people wouldn’t feel comfortable returning to work. As Johnson said, it will only work if there is “Confidence on the part of employers and confidence on the part of employees”, so not only will you need to practically adapt your business but you’ll need to communicate the changes effectively with your staff to ensure they feel safe to return.

The furlough scheme

There was no mention of the furlough scheme in the lockdown speech. We may get more details tomorrow but regardless it would be wise to start to prepare your business for operating post-furlough.

In lots of ways, the ‘roadmap’ has created more uncertainty, but for business owners there will be some relief to see a very rough timeline of industries getting started again.

Johnson ended the speech with the analogy that “Coming down the mountain is often the most dangerous” and there’s no denying that we are still in extremely unchartered and worrying territory.

However, we are taking baby steps forward and we will update this piece as more details of the roadmap are revealed.