There’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead” says Nick Forsyth as he considers the issues businesses face connected to Freedom Day

In what became an expected move, our Government predictably threw the workplace safety measures back into Employers faces with effect from 19 July 2021 – or that’s how it seems. Strangely, it’s taken Boris Johnson 16 months to pluck up the necessary courage and he’s done it from self isolation having been forced, by public opinion, to do so after the newly appointed Health Minister tested positive for Covid-19.

I’m also in self isolation (for the week) as I write having been pinged by the NHS App last Saturday having spent time at the office on Friday considering our return to work process after what can only be described as one of our most challenging weeks of the pandemic so far. Following the Euro final last Sunday, a colleague was pinged and after testing themselves, discovered two bars instead of one on their test.

They weren’t the first staff member to be pinged that week. We had them most days and then after the PCR test result, a flurry over the weekend leaving us with 17 self isolators as Freedom Day began. In truth, it could have been more as I discovered a lot of our staff and some Partners haven’t downloaded the NHS App for a variety for reasons and I’ve heard some have deleted it to escape from the implications that follow.

Unfortunately, we decided that we couldn’t let them escape and took it upon ourselves to identify those who we felt had been in the potential firing line and advised them, from a work perspective at least, to self isolate for various periods of time. It seems to us that the more the economy starts to open up that the more it will close down as once you get one ping, that won’t be the end of it and before you know it most people are no longer with you.

It’s particularly disappointing for us as we have worked hard to keep things safe at the office and had embarked onto a plan to reintroduce each team over a period of weeks so that staff got used to things in a gentle way.  Last week demonstrated that even with the best laid plans and social distancing remaining in place, a positive case has implications and we’ve now introduced a firebreak in an effort regain control but it will take at least this week to do so.

There’s no blame attached to anyone as we’ve had a great run thus far and it had to happen at some point. We can’t live our lives in isolation but we have to consider the risks for us and others. But it does cause chaos that results in hours lost in meetings reassessing the situation due to the virus taking hold in its third wave and making people positive.

I therefore watched the Vaccines Minister give an interview on BBC Breakfast this morning (19 July 2021) and the Prime Minister’s address at 17.00 to gain some comfort and found a distinct lack of understanding in the Politicians as to what is going on out in the businesses they are trying to get back to the workplace. The talk today focused on returning to work and until last week I fully supported this, but like them I was naive and I now appreciate more of the difficulties we face in achieving this.

As we attempt to bring more people back in we will see more people going back home. The reason isn’t that the office, shop floor or factory isn’t safe – it is – but it’s the outside of work things that we have no power over and can only counsel on that may lead to the pings we all fear. That suggests a blame culture of “my workplace is safer than yours” in terms of offices, shops and factories over hospitality but it isn’t that at all. It might be fairer to say that Covid-19 is reasserting itself once more in terms of cases but the Government are trying to ignore it based upon our vaccination successes and the thought that we won’t all end up in hospital.

Looking at Patrick Vallance’s slides this afternoon, one can see infections roaring away but hospital admissions at this stage being far lower. These infections can only lead to more infection being spread and whilst we might not end up in hospital, we could all quite quickly end up off work either ill or self isolating. This doesn’t appear worthy of consideration – or was it? Boris Johnson suggested many times that we must be cautious with masks etc. and he is right to say so but by releasing the legislation, what powers does he leave us with? I have heard from clients about arguments over masks and whilst we haven’t seen that ourselves, I fancy we might. We want to release our locked door policy as soon as possible but I fear that might be the wrong move at this moment.

So how will people deal with the way forward in the coming days and weeks? Will they take slow, steady steps or throw themselves headlong into their former life come what may without considering the consequences?

Neil Young is a formidable artist who has been around forever. On some of his albums he repeats a song, on side one an acoustic version with side two having an electric one that damages your hearing. His 1989 album Freedom represented a return to form and includes such a song “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World” which has gone on to become one of his later classics. Whilst I love the electric version, it seems like the time to put the needle onto side one to hear Neil’s acoustic live version;

Colors on the street
Red, White and blue
People shufflin’ their feet
People sleepin’ in their shoes
There’s a warnin’ sign on the road ahead
There’s a lot of people saying ……….
Keep on rockin’ in the free world
Keep on rockin’ in the free world.   

It seems to me we reached that warning sign on the road ahead last week, so let’s stick with this low key acoustic style as we open up, keeping our wits about us so that we give our workplaces a chance. And as for Mr Johnson, he needs to understand, “There’s more to the Picture than Meets the Eye” in an effort to not make it an impossibilty to manage the situation we appear to be getting into.

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The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the Author and other professionals may express different views. They may not be the views of Lambert Chapman LLP. The material in the article cannot and should not be considered as exhaustive. Professional advice should be sought in connection with any of the issues contained in the article and the implementation of any actions.

Lambert Chapman Chartered Accountants

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