What does Level 4 mean for accountancy firms?
Following an announcement on 17 November 2020 by the First Minister of Scotland that 11 local council areas will be entering Level 4 measures as set out in the Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland’s Strategic Framework, what does this mean for accountancy firms in these regions?
Level 4 is close to a full lockdown and measures have been put in place for a short, sharp response to quickly suppress the virus. For offices, working from home remains the Scottish Government’s default position across the five levels and wherever possible. Homeworking is a public health measure in response to the pandemic that has been a crucial factor in mitigating the transmission of the virus amongst the general population.
Accountants play a vital role as a sounding board and touchpoint to help clients manage the issues impacting them and their business during this difficult time. An estimated 7.1m people fall into the key workers’ category and the finance sector has been designated within government guidance as a Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sector.
In this context, a CNI finance sector key worker can be defined as someone who provides a service which is necessary to support the continued functioning of economic activity. Firms should consider the activities, services or operations which would lead to disruption of the economy if they were not available or where there is a legislative requirement for the service being provided. Many accountancy services are likely to fall within this definition.
Those that are providing an essential service as part of the Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) sectors can remain open where it is not practical for the essential service work to be carried out from home. Not all operations within the business may count as being ‘essential’ however.
The Scottish Government have reminded employers who have encouraged workers back to the office who could be working from home that they should rethink this position. Businesses should plan to have the minimum levels of staff physically present to maintain essential services with the remainder working from home when they can operate effectively.
Where home working is not possible businesses and organisation are encouraged to manage travel demand through staggered start times and flexible working patterns. Further examples of social distancing measures for office working were outlined in a previous article.
As each workplace is different, firms should review the applicable sector guidance and general workplace guidance to determine how best to apply it within their own organisation.
The ICAS toolkit and guidance on returning to office working provides further information and resources on the measures which offices should consider taking into account the current public health situation.
Visit the ICAS coronavirus hub – a central source of information and resources for members, practice and business.