Below please find key take-outs from our June 11th panel featuring Sir Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust and member of the Sage Government advisory committee; Andy Bird, CEO of Pearson; Viki Cooke, Founding Partner at the polling organisation, BritainThinks; and Amber Rudd, Teneo Senior Advisor and former Home Secretary.
- Jeremy Farrar was clear that the success of the UK’s vaccination programme has put us in an excellent position as we look towards recovery but stressed that we may not yet be able to lift COVID restrictions entirely this month without risking another surge in cases. In addition, though the vaccine does appear to be extremely effective, separating the increasing case load from severe illness and hospitalisations, there remains a substantial threat from new variants.
- On the public attitude towards a potential extension of restrictions, Viki Cooke noted that while there is still a split over whether to prioritise public health vs economic recovery, most of the public remain relatively cautious and would be likely to accept an extension of low level restrictions for a number of weeks.
- In light of the current discussions at the G7 conference, the panel also discussed the growing international and geopolitical significance of a global vaccination approach and argued that demands for vaccination assistance will become a crucial element in a number of areas, including as the UK seeks to drive global consensus around COP26 and the net-zero agenda. Jeremy Farrar also stressed that a more global approach is now needed to ensure that the conditions around the world do not encourage the emergence of new variants.
- Speaking about public and business opinions towards lifting COVID restrictions, Viki Cooke noted that a number of pre-existing trends amongst businesses and consumers have been significantly accelerated during the lockdown, including a focus on sustainability objectives, more flexible, multi-modal, styles of work, as well as substantial attention on both physical and mental health. Andy Bird also spoke about a massive surge in the demand for reskilling from businesses and individuals alike, particularly when it comes to the growing demand for digital skills.
- On the question of returning to the office, Amber Rudd argued that the Government will take a relatively cautious approach to encouraging people to return as, while it will want to see urban economies reinvigorated by returning workers, they will prefer to leave businesses to decide how they want to adapt to new working practices. While the panel debated how business will respond as restrictions are lifted, Andy Bird argued that businesses need to redefine their relationships with employees, particularly how they use their offices to ensure that they foster the key benefits of community and collaboration that can come with office working.