COVID means life will never be the same again.
COVID means life will never be the same again. So, let us make sure it will be better for us all.
In recent weeks there has been much encouragement for people to return to their offices. This has been partly motivated by concerns about the economy and the facilities and firms that service commuters and office staff. Worries that our city centres will die, along with thousands of businesses that cater for its workforce.
For some where they work has not changed. The key workers, the carers and Health care professionals, the teachers, nursery staff and child carers, from supermarkets to construction sites, lockdown has been spent “in their office” -wherever that might be. But for many – about half of the UK workforce- it has meant working from home.
What has often been absent in discussions about “getting back to work” is a recognition that things won’t be the same again.
Many businesses have noticed their productivity has risen because of homeworking. Their staff are happier, with a better work/life balance. Households are better able to cope with the costs of living having not had to pay train fares.
Many will rightly want to hold on to the positives as we rebuild the economy. What does that mean for our town and office centres, and the services that surround them?
Are there opportunities, to shift from office space to desperately needed residential accommodation? What does it mean for planning standards and requirements for future residential accommodation? The space per unit? Access to communal green space? Can this help with the vital regeneration of secondary shopping areas and other hubs?
We need a focus on bringing under-utilised or empty buildings back to a useful purpose and how to create the right balance of retail and leisure facilities, and perhaps now new office support services, such as IT.
We need support for businesses which may have to transition to provide new services.
We need retraining and education opportunities for those former cleaners and others whose work will inevitably dry up.
Within all of these challenges are opportunities for the levelling up agenda”. Towns and cities which have suffered from the centrifugal forces of London should be invested in. People with talent and capability should be able to put down roots and give more back to the communities they call home.
We need high quality business support for the many new start-ups that must be created post COVID.
We should also recognise what has been helpful in making our community resilient through this crisis. Access to IT and good broadband has helped keep people connected, business functioning and pupils learning. We have started to deliver health services in a more convenient and accessible way. The power of community organisations and the critical importance of local people in the lead has been demonstrated. Let us not forget those lessons now.
We need planning rules and local policies to reflect this and that we insist on future proofing new homes with the IT infrastructure we known people need.
In Portsmouth we are better placed than many to do this. We should set out a clear vision for what the heart of each of our wards across our city should be. We could be a trailblazer city, that maximises on those learnings.
If we learn, adapt and seize those opportunities, we will be more resilient. We will have a better quality of life. Our community will be stronger. Our economy will recover faster.
COVID and the threat of other viruses means life will never be the same again. So, let us make sure it will be better for us all.