The return of the rave, but not the office.
The return of the rave, but not the office.
With the NI Assembly still in recess and no dramas to be turned into crises, the focus has been on functional government this week with the Executive taking some significant steps in easing restrictions. For those looking for some late summer merriment the options are certainly on the up, with ‘proper’ garden parties and table hopping at hostelries likely to be all the rage. And for any of you who like your partying a little more hardcore, there’s always an outdoor rave with those restrictions also being lifted. Good news, too, for many businesses and society at large, with the double jabbed, negative tested folk not having to self isolate…yet, despite it being discussed, there’s no change on the working from home message. With September on the horizon and schools soon to be populated without the need for bubbles, some businesses have been aligning their return to the office albeit on a hybrid basis with the return of the pupils. A natural rubicon in the calendar year, it makes sense on many levels for both employers and employees. While it’s only guidance, the status quo, is not what some businesses wanted to hear who are having to grapple with what their future model of work looks like, seeking buy–in from staff, and addressing the thorny issue of the vaccinated versus the non–vaccinated in the workplace.
Looking at the global picture, tech giant Google has pushed its start date out from September to mid October with an email from CEO Sundar Pichai to all 130,000 employees stating that, when offices are fully reopened, everyone working in them will have to be vaccinated. Vaccinations and the workplace is an issue we are likely to hear a fair bit about in the weeks and months ahead.
As for other issues set to be a dominant feature on the upcoming news and policy agenda, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a code red report for humanity on the spiralling challenges of global warming as momentum starts to build towards the hugely significant Cop26 Climate Change Conference later this year. First out of the blocks locally was Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon who has the Executive’s backing for an NI style Climate Change Summit in advance of the main event itself, in Glasgow. In little over a year, the Assembly has moved from being the only region in the UK without a targeted strategy to address the deepening global crisis, to having two climate change bills and now…. a summit. Let’s hope they can find consensus amongst all of that on a progressive climate change strategy that makes a positive contribution to the local and global need. As for the weekend ahead, not sure what your plans are but, I’m off to dust down my Café Del Mar playlist and who knows, maybe even have a mini rave in the garden!
Update on Restrictions
• The NI Executive has agreed on the easing of several Covid restrictions that will come into effect on Monday, 16th August. These include:
o People notified as close contacts will no longer have to self–isolate if they have been fully vaccinated.
o The limit on numbers of people allowed to meet outdoors in private gardens will be removed.
o The rule of six – the number of people allowed to sit at tables together in hospitality venues – will also be removed. This applies to wedding celebrations and receptions.
o Indoor premises and workplaces in Northern Ireland will still be required to comply with a 1m (3ft) social distancing rule.
o Further and higher education can return to full in–person learning; class bubbles no longer required for schools.
o Social distancing rule lifted from public transport.
o Outdoor raves allowed to return, with conferences and exhibitions to resume. Nightclubs, however, remain without a reopening date.
• The Executive will revisit remaining regulations during meetings due to take place on the 1st September and 9th September.
Update on Education
• Stormont is seeking to accelerate plans to improve the quality of NI education after report finds more than 43,000 students here attend schools deemed financially unviable. Michelle McIlveen says the ‘critical issue’ will see several closures and potential merges over the coming years.
• A record number of A–level students (51%) in Northern Ireland received top A* and A grades. This figure is a rise from 45% in 2020.
• NI’s GCSE grades were also up on previous years. A* and A were awarded to just under 40% of entries, a rise of 3% over 2020.
Update on Economy
• Ulster Bank survey reveals NI recorded slowest economic growth in UK for July 2021, with the construction sector, in particular, experiencing a slowdown due to output, new orders and employment all contracting in July.
• Economy Minister Gordon Lyons has again urged people to sign up to the electoral register in order to help verification for the High Street Voucher Scheme. The 1.3m people currently on the old register will still be eligible.
Update on Health
• Concerns have been raised over ‘dangerous’ staffing levels in HSC system after it emerged there are currently 3,000 nursing and social work vacancies in NI. This comes after 182 nurses resigned from Belfast Trust in the first half of 2021.
• Latest Department of Health figures reveal 68,000 people attended NI’s emergency departments in June, an increase of more than 24% over June 2020.
• Men in same–sex relationships for more than three months in Northern Ireland will be eligible to donate blood under new rules to be introduced from 16th August.
Update on Trade
• The majority of NI’s cross–border businesses are either growing or enjoying stability. According to InterTradeIreland, 50% of NI companies are in ‘growth mode’ while 24% reported stability as Covid–19 restrictions begin to ease.
Update on Brexit
• Which? survey finds NI consumers are most sceptical about benefits of post–Brexit trade deals than any other UK region. Of those polled, 60% were doubtful that any of the new trade deals would meet the needs of Northern Ireland.
Update on Environment
• In light of Monday’s IPCC report, the NI Executive has agreed to hold a special summit on climate change. This will take place prior to COP26 beginning in October.
Update on Health
• The President of the Irish Medical Organisation has warned of a ‘medical manpower crisis’ that is being exacerbated by overcrowding, as patients who were not treated during the pandemic begin to present.
• Home and Community Care Ireland has called on the government to allow hiring of workers from non–EU countries. The group says Ireland’s home case sector is reaching full capacity and unable to cope with additional demand.
• A report by the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) has found that, while hospitals adapted swiftly to cope with Covid–19 last year, these efforts were hindered by longstanding problems around capacity and resource deficits.
Update on Vaccines
• HSE has said the vaccination campaign is in its ‘final leg’. By this weekend 90% of adults will be at least partially vaccinated and 80% will be fully vaccinated.
• Children aged 12–15 can register online for vaccinations from Thursday, with over 50,000 already registered.
• The Government says work is under way to establish a compensation scheme for anyone who suffers injury arising from one of the State’s vaccination programmes. However, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has ruled out a specific scheme to any claims that might arise from the Covid–19 jab.
Update on Economy
• Consumer prices in July were 2.2% higher than they were in July 2020, according to the Central Statistics Office. The last time inflation breached the 2% threshold was March 2012.
• Freight flow between Britain and Ireland has fallen 29% amid post–Brexit trade friction. Data from the Irish Maritime Development Office found volumes between Ireland and Britain were down to 355,000 units in the first half of 2021, 29% lower than in the same period of 2019.
• 2.4 million contactless payments were made every day in June 2021, the highest daily figure on record, according to new data from the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland.
Update on Employment
• Sportswear retailer Frasers Group is to create a ‘significant number’ of Irish jobs with the opening of two new stores across Cork and Kildare. The stores will be the first of the group in ROI.
• Google has told staff their pay could be cut by up to 25% if they choose to work from home permanently. The system, currently being piloted in the US, could in time apply to other territories. However, the Irish Congress of Trade Unions says a similar system is unlikely to be enforced in Ireland due its relatively small size.
Update on Housing
• A report by Daft.ie has revealed the supply of new homes continues to be well below demand. It suggested the State will need to build almost 50,000 homes a year for the next 30 years if its housing stock is to ‘reflect the country’s demographics.’
• Latest figures from Central Statistics Office confirm price of residential property has increased 95.4% from low point in 2013. In June, the price of houses and apartments nationally rose by 6.9% in the year to June, compared to 5.4% in May.