Rush hour still quiet as back-to-office drive continues

The UK’s roads and transport networks remain quiet despite a government push for more workers to return to their offices now schools have reopened.

Tube passenger numbers are rising, but photos have revealed how many carriages remain half-empty during previously chaotic rush-hour times, with few people alighting at Waterloo and Paddington. Usage of the London Underground network remains more than 70% down compared with this time last year.

Images of the M40 also showed very light traffic during normal peak times this week, while seats were left empty during train journeys into the capital early this morning.

Data has shown that there were 550 traffic jams across 230 miles of London roads at 8am today, with congestion levels at 41% – up from 28% last Wednesday and 36% on Tuesday this week. But the figures still remain far below last year’s average of 67%, according to satnav brand TomTom.

The figures come amid a government push for civil servants to lead from the front and encourage Brits to get back to their desks by doing so themselves.

Today Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey revealed that 799 of the department’s 804 sites are now open to employees as she completed the morning’s media round.

She said she hoped more staff would be encouraged to return to their offices now that schools have reopened across the UK.

Coffey told BBC Breakfast that ‘more than half’ of [department] staff’ are ‘fully back in the offices’, adding: ‘But even then we have capacity on how many people can be in a Covid-safe environment within our workplace.’

She went on: ‘It’s important that employers and employees have that discussion about Covid-safe environments. There’ll be more opportunities for parents to go back into the office if that’s what is the best thing for them and their employer.’

The minister also appeared on Sky News, where she explained the negative impact continued working from home could have on industries which rely on people being in their offices.

She continued: ‘There is that wider knock-on effect, for example, we know that in the capital there are a number of different services which rely on people being here in greater numbers and that’s why we’ve seen organisations make decisions not to fully reopen, whether that’s food outlets or similar. This is an unravelling situation and we need and want employers to be agile.’

Boris Johnson began urging people to start going back to their desks in July. This week he said they had been returning ‘in huge numbers to the office’, but Downing Street could not provide figures to back up the claims.

Johnson’s spokesman said: ‘I don’t have the figures especially for today but you can expect to see more civil servants return to the office over the coming weeks with the return of Parliament and children to schools.

‘We’ve been clear with departments that they need to ensure government workspaces are Covid-secure and permanent secretaries have been undertaking the work to return civil servants to the office or workplace.’

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