Covid Edinburgh: Return to offices 'vital' for city centre recovery, says business leader

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Getting staff back into their offices is vital for the future of Edinburgh city centre, one of the Capital's business leaders has claimed.

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Roddy Smith chief executive of Essential Edinburgh which represents hundreds of city-centre businesses, acknowledged working patterns would change but said the shops, bars and restaurants in the heart of the city still needed the custom of office workers in order to thrive.

A manifesto for the Capital's recovery from Covid, published this week by the Edinburgh Business Resilience Group (EBRG) names accelerating a return to workplaces as one of its top priorities.

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Princes Street was largely empty at the height of the pandemic   Picture: Ian RutherfordPrinces Street was largely empty at the height of the pandemic   Picture: Ian Rutherford
Princes Street was largely empty at the height of the pandemic Picture: Ian Rutherford

Mr Smith said: “We realise until the conditions and regulations change it's not going to happen, but once we get down to minimum Covid restrictions at Level 0, then while accepting there will be changing work patterns, we believe it's absolutely imperative that people return to offices."

He said some offices were already being redesigned and re-equipped to cope with more flexible working. “Office space will evolve. The days of people having their own offices or own workspaces may change and things will happen more flexibly and people will have drop-in desks and nicer meeting rooms.

“But what we want to see is still the city centre being a vibrant office hub.”

He said the pandemic had had a huge impact on the city centre. "With residents not coming into shop, along with the loss of tourists and office-based workers not being in, the city centre has been hit by a triple whammy.”

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People are now returning to shop in the centre, he said, and the tourists would come back in time, but he was keen to see bank staff, lawyers, accountants and other office workers return to their workplaces.

"The people who sustain the city centre Monday-Friday are the office-based workers meeting people for coffee, nipping into M&S for a pair of socks, going to Boots to buy toothpaste.”

He accepted there would be an increase in people working from home. “We may see people coming into the office three days week as opposed to five,” he said.

And he acknowledged a two-thirds reduction in office workers would have an inevitable impact on the shops, bars, restaurants and supermarkets in the centre. “They key is to minimise it and factor it into the way the city centre will change over time.”

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Mr Smith said office-based workers were seeing a greater attraction in working flexibly, but he believed an office environment still offered advantages in team bonding, togetherness and communication.

“It's happening all over the world, it's an issue for city centres globally. Employers are going to have to adapt, how much they adapt will be down to the individual employer.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "While we hope we are in the process of emerging from the pandemic, case rates at the moment underline the fact that this virus is still with us. Physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, staying at home if you have symptoms and getting tested, some flexibility from employers with regards home-working and – above all – getting vaccinated will all continue to be important tools in helping keep transmission down, and part of the collective, civic duty we all owe to each other.”

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