Coffey says firms should decide on whether staff can work from home

Dr Therese Coffey

Dr Therese Coffey said the government should not tell workers and employers whether staff could work from home or office. - Credit: Paul Geater

A decision on whether workers should return to offices after the pandemic should be a matter for employers and their staff - not the government, Work and Pensions Secretary Dr Therese Coffey said.

Dr Coffey was speaking during a visit to Saxmundham station in her Suffolk Coastal constituency - with rail companies including Greater Anglia still seeing only about half the normal numbers of commuters on some routes.

Last summer, before the second and third lockdowns were introduced, the government was keen on encouraging firms to bring staff back to offices to boost other businesses, including transport operators and town and city centre shops.

However, Dr Coffey said it should be up to employers and their staff to decide - and the issue would probably depend on the culture of the organisation.

She said: "We are seeing some people coming back. I notice more people when I go to London - but there aren't as many people about as before and I don't know if we will ever get back to the previous numbers.

"Many jobs, of course, cannot be done from home - but in industries like financial services we are seeing very different reactions from different companies.

"Some say their staff are not as productive at home and want to get everyone back, others say they are very happy with how their staff have been working and are happy to continue with that.

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"I think it is all essentially down to the culture of the business involved - and that is how it should be."

Greater Anglia's Jonathan Denby said the number of commuters was still significantly down even though other parts of the business were recovering well.

He said: "Overall we're now on about 60-65% of pre-pandemic passenger levels. But with leisure travel, especially on regional routes like this (the East Suffolk Line) we're up to 80% or even more.

"Elsewhere it's more patchy. Not surprisingly Stansted Express is still quite low. But there are also some commuter routes where the numbers are still lagging - we shall have to see how that changes bur our new flexible season tickets are starting to take off."