The coronavirus pandemic sees us living through uncertain times and this, in turn, means we are seeing government respond with measures unparalleled for peacetime.
Moreover, these unprecedented decisions are having to be made quickly – probably often amidst conflicting advice – and implemented with haste.
Over the past week or so we have seen some new policies announced without the usual expected level of clarity.
Still, others have been announced in principle while precise details are still being worked on furiously behind the scenes so that they can actually be put into practice.
This has resulted in confusion, and we saw some of that earlier this week when the Prime Minister addressed the nation and announced a new package of measures to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
These included certain businesses and premises – mainly in the retail and leisure sectors – that were told to close for the foreseeable future, and an instruction to people to stay at home for the next three weeks, except in specific circumstances.
The initial statement led to a lack of clarity amongst many as to which specific businesses were expected to close, and to many employees questioning whether they should go into work, or even assuming they should simply not turn up the next day.
There is also ongoing uncertainty about the recently announced Job Retention Scheme, how new "furlough" rules will work, and when payments can be accessed.
This type of situation creates more stress and difficulty for our members who are working flat out to navigate their way through this crisis, to keep their businesses operational; to protect and do what is right for their staff; and also continue to play a role in keeping the wider economy moving.
This is even more important for businesses producing the vital components that others in critical frontline sectors need, such as packaging for food and pharmaceutical goods or coatings for health equipment.
Helping where we can:
We have been doing our best to help monitor and analyze the announcements coming out of government and to supply members with updates in a timely fashion.
- We are now holding weekly conference calls of our board members to remain abreast of the latest situation across our sector and to ensure we can assist members to get the necessary support from the government over the coming weeks;
- We are fielding questions and concerns coming in from members and passing these on to contacts in government and other bodies as appropriate for action and response. For example, trying to get more information on the Job Retention Scheme and "furlough;"
- We are creating resources, such as template letters, where appropriate to help save members time;
- We are lobbying hard for our sector to ensure that its important work supplying vital downstream users is recognized formally, both in anticipation of any potential tighter lockdown for all but "essential" industries and in terms of ensuring critical raw materials.
Where to find online resources:
Although BCF will be circulating what we identify as relevant updates to members, there will always be a time lag in that information being sent out.
A reminder that all the latest information and advice on COVID-19 from the government can be found on the Gov.UK landing page, here.
And members can sign up to receive bulletins by email directly.
Clarification on who should be working/staying at home:
Finally, picking up on the issue of confusion following the PM’s statement. The manufacturing sector was not included in that list of businesses required to close, although as with all other businesses where staff can be enabled to work from home they should now be doing so. Current government advice is that, as a manufacturing company:
“Where people absolutely cannot work from home, they can still go to work. Indeed, it is important that they do so in order to keep the country running," Matt Hancock, secretary of State for Health, said on March 24.
The Secretary of State for Health went on to clarify that there are only four reasons people should be leaving their homes over the next three weeks.
“First, to shop for basic necessities, such as food, as infrequently as possible; secondly, to exercise once a day, for example, a run, walk or cycle, alone or with members of the same household; thirdly, for any medical need, or to provide care or help to a vulnerable person; and fourthly, to travel to and from work, but only where it cannot be done from home, and employers should be taking every possible step to ensure that staff can work remotely," Hancock said.
Businesses continuing to operate should follow the latest government advice on working at all times. This includes ensuring employees are able to follow Public Health England guidelines including, where possible, maintaining a 2-meter distance from others, washing hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds (or using hand sanitizer gel if soap and water are not available), and that all other relevant health and safety precautions are in place.
The Government has confirmed that the police and other relevant authorities will have the power to enforce the enhanced "stay at home" guidance, and there are already reports of police stopping employees when traveling to and from work and asking them why they are not at home.
To assist our members, BCF has provided a template letter that employers can give to staff, explaining the current guidelines for their own employees but which can also be used as proof they need to travel to work, should the police stop and ask them.
It is now our number one priority to support our members through this time and we are working to stay informed and engaged with government on all matters concerning the coronavirus.