More employees should return to work rather than stay at home to ensure “the economic engines of this country are fired up again”, Michael Gove has told Sky News.
Ditching the previous government messaging during the coronavirus pandemic, the Cabinet Office minister said people who can “add value” from being in the workplace should do so.
His comments came after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveileda raft of emergency measures to revive the stricken economy as he warned that jobs are at risk if activity does not return to normal.
The £30bn COVID-19 recovery package included plans to subsidise meals out, cut stamp duty and pay companies for taking workers off furlough and retaining them into 2021.
However, the measures have faced criticism in some quarters, with Labour branding them “very poorly targeted and badly designed schemes”.
Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme, Mr Gove said: “We want to see more people back at work, on the shop floor, in the office, wherever they can be.
“Of course in some cases it is appropriate and convenient for people to work from home, but we want to make sure that where people can add value, where the economy can benefit from people being at work, that they are at work.
“We want to make sure that the economic engines of this country are fired up again and that’s why the chancellor made the series of announcements that he made earlier this week in order to make sure that we are in a position to be able to provide people with safety and security at work, to protect their jobs and to guarantee jobs in the future.”
But Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell was critical of the chancellor’s announcement.
She told Ridge: “The summer statement this week was a real missed opportunity, possibly the last opportunity we’ve had to save tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of jobs over the coming months, with some very poorly targeted and badly designed schemes which are just not up to the task of saving all those jobs, especially in some of the key sectors most adversely affected by this crisis.”
Meanwhile, TUC union chief Frances O’Grady has argued that firms which can afford it should “absolutely” follow the example of Primark, which is reportedly set to reject around £30m in “bonuses” from the government for bringing back furloughed staff.
She told Ridge: “I think what we are worried about is that there is a risk of getting into gimmicks rather than giving the targeted support that industries need.”
She argued the government, industries and unions needed to talk about national recovery plans and to help sectors that are “in real trouble” due to the crisis.
Ms O’Grady said: “We have to have targeted plans and support to keep them on their feet. The autumn will be too late.
“We are looking for flexibility and targeted support to get us through this tough period.
“It is a lot easier to hold on to good jobs that we have already rather than to try and create them later down the line. The biggest threat we face now is mass unemployment.”