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Easing UK’s current lockdown restrictions and cross sector issues ?

Baskar Sundaram

This blog is part of our Covid series that explores a range of topics related to these issues and will naturally evolve as events unfold and facts reveal themselves. The blogs are in no way intended to provide scientific or health expertise, but rather focus on the implications and options for facilities services and workplace organisations.

These insights are based on our ongoing interactions with organisations operating in impacted areas and our expertise in facilities service and business services growth delivery.

To prepare for the easing of the UK’s current lockdown restrictions, the Government will need to work with business and the VCSE sector to ensure a smooth re-engagement in delivery of public services. This will minimise the potential impact to the wider economy through a deliberate and seamless return-to-work.

The Government could usefully expose its derestriction scenarios shaping the exit strategy, so that organisations can supportively plan for it in terms of resource allocation and staff deployment. Organisations need a lot of notice and clear details about when and how restrictions will be eased

Cross sector considerations below.
Transport, and the need to make sure there is sufficient public transport to allow social distancing, co-ordinated so employers can stagger return to work timetables according to the transport available in each area.

Social distancing and health and safety guidelines for all employers.

Potentially making schemes like JRS more flexible to adapt to a phased return to work after June, for example reducing the 3-week minimum and/or allowing part time work.

Adopting a similar phased approach to other schemes such as Supplier Relief and KPIs.

General Public Procurement Considerations
A large number of contracts have been extended to the end of the year. This will create a bottleneck in companies’ abilities to bid for work. Updated procurement timelines could be published.

Lack of face-to-face discussion means that future needs are not being discussed and this is likely to delay future procurements.

Contract Catering and Hospitality Sector
Many contractors will be calling upon the same supply chains when restrictions lift; not least for the provision of PPE required for food preparation. Without due notice, delays may be inevitable.

Clear guidance required for social distancing in workplace restaurants/canteens both for consumers and staff.

If, as has been suggested in recent briefings, the hospitality sector is likely to be amongst the last to see restrictions lifted are there plans to provide medium term support for businesses?

Construction & Infrastructure sector
Consideration needs to be given to the sequencing of relaxing restrictions. For example, construction projects could be delayed because of the current shut-down of engineering, architectural and consulting services.

Education sector
For schools to reopen, services such as catering require a minimum of two weeks to get back up and running. Social distancing measures will need to be communicated early so that school meal providers can plan staffing, food offers and food service solutions to meet social distancing. Notice will also enable the restarting of supply chains, bringing staff back from Furlough, staff training on new processes (linked to social distancing), checking allergies and re-establishing digital meal ordering platforms for parents.

Early discussions are required on the commercial impact of social distancing around meal volumes and additional safety/hygiene measures. Apprenticeships have been heavily disrupted by the lack of Covid-19 support to Independent Training Providers. This will have a significant drag in economic recovery as the potential workforce that was in being has been significantly disrupted or lost.

Health sector
Supply chains were reorganised very quickly to deal with the crisis. They need to be moved back in an orderly way. The NHS borrowed a lot of equipment from suppliers. How will this be returned in an orderly fashion? Staff have been redeployed to the new Nightingale hospitals. Clarity is needed as to when to return these employees back to their previous duties.

The NHS doesn’t want to return to pre-Coronavirus operating model. What improvements have been made as a result of the crisis that should remain operational? For example, BT lifelines into ICU.

Retail sector
Consideration needs to be given to the capacity of security guards, many of whom have been redeployed to the new Nightingale hospitals.

Staffing and Pensions
A smooth return to work without advanced notice of the Government’s anticipated timeline will be extremely difficult. Employers require either clarity or flexibility – ideally both. Questions remain on what will happen to the Pensions Levy and the Pensions Protection Fund.

Training and employment support provision needs to be a priority, to help all groups access the jobs that become available. That includes making sure training and employment support providers can survive the lockdown, for example through effective Supplier Relief and flexible apprenticeship levy rules, and that there is a focus on helping those groups with particular needs who may have been hit hardest by the lockdown.

The infrastructure and construction pipeline also needs to focus on those areas of the country where there is greatest need to kickstart the economy, including through the Green Book Review.

As a consequence of Covid-19, local communities have found innovative ways to care for vulnerable people in their communities. This hard won experience of what beneficiaries need (type, place, time, quantity etc) and how the local level brigaded to accommodate its provision should be subject to early lessons identified for capture and analysis. The understanding gained should be used to inform local public service provision in concert with the communities to be served.

Therefore, the voices of local communities, beneficiaries and local and devolved government should be heard in the decision-making process. In support of the two preceding bullets, there should be a renewed emphasis on wider value in public procurement, especially social value and justice, in contracting for services in the public space. Early engagement with the private and VCSE sectors should be initiated with the aim to capture best practice that can be scaled and replicated at speed with the aim of maximising social value and value for money (mutually supporting but not interchangeable).

The Cabinet Office Procurement hand book should incorporate lessons of Covid-19, especially in the areas of: unlimited liability; appropriate risk transfer; contractual terms and inter-contract and inter-provider flexibility; ‘should-cost’ modelling focussing on delivering quality outputs; and flexibility on delivery of contracts rather than prescriptive inputs. The preceding should all be subject to the ‘acid test’ of maximising social value through good procurement as opposed to lowest price-points.

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