Labour leader calls for “national consensus” on lockdown exit strategy
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said that a “national consensus” involving political parties, employers and trade unions is needed on the government’s lockdown exit strategy, to help reassure people that they can return to work safely.
Sir Keir said that existing government plans were “full of gaps”, adding that new safety standards needed to be introduced to the workplace.
Prime minister Boris Johnson is expected to unveil his exit strategy on Sunday, following Thursday’s review of the existing lockdown measures.
In the meantime, the Labour leader is to meet with the prime minister and other opposition parties this week to set out a number of “core principles” for the government’s exit strategy.
Sir Keir said that the government needed to be clear on what was expected of businesses and their employees when restrictions are gradually lifted, and on how staff will be able to work safely to minimise risk.
Within the core principles, Sir Keir will suggest that a “national safety standard” should be introduced for firms and schools.
Sir Keir told the BBC: "The government put out a consultation document out at the weekend which was very vague, with lots of gaps in it. We need something stronger.
"Reassurance really matters here. I think the vast majority of people are really anxious about going back to work.
"I think people are more likely to be reassured and have confidence if they see political parties, trade unions and businesses lining up behind a standard they think is right and enforceable."
23 per cent of the UK's employed workforce has been furloughed under the existing Job Retention Scheme. Sir Keir has echoed chancellor Rishi Sunak's warning that the furlough of staff cannot continue for an indefinite period, while calling for the initiative to be made more flexible to enable a phased return to work.
The Labour leader added that it will "probably" be "inevitable" that people are advised to wear face coverings in enclosed spaces where social distancing is difficult to practice, while more bus and train services will be required to cope with the increase in commuters.
As part of a "structured approach to easing and tightening restrictions", Sir Keir said that the government must have a plan in place to manufacture and mass distribute a vaccine should one be developed, have a national plan to navigate the winter flu season, and guarantee a supply chain of PPE to keep critical workers safe.
In line with Sir Keir's suggestions, health secretary Matt Hancock has said that the government will be consulting with trade unions and employers going forward.
Hancock said: "Clearly it is absolutely vital that people are as safe as possible when they're at work. We've got to do that in a way that's practical.”