Northern high streets to be hit hardest by Covid collapse in retail
REGIONAL town and city centres will be hit hardest by the Covid collapse in retail, official figures show, as fears mount over rising unemployment across the country.
High streets in Yorkshire, the East Midlands and the North East are heavily exposed because shops make up a very large proportion of businesses compared to offices, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
It came as a slew of data showed a pick-up in spending, with the Government’s restaurant voucher scheme helping to boost demand. However, there are fears the recovery will be short-lived.
Areas that are heavily reliant on retail are likely to be most exposed in the coming downturn as coronavirusravaged stores go bust.
ONS analysis shows that towns with the highest proportion of retail addresses include Newton Aycliffe, Co Durham, at 84.9pc, and Workington, Allerdale, at 64.1pc – both in “red wall” constituencies that returned Tory MPs in December’s general election after having backed Labour for decades. By contrast, London has a far higher proportion of office space compared to shops. Paul Swinney, of the Centre for Cities think tank, said: “The number of people with office jobs in city centres is a key component of bringing people in to be customers for retailers.
“The weakest areas have much more retail space than office space – that does not seem to be sustainable.” High streets were suffering even before the pandemic, the figures showed. Retail employment fell in more than three quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018.
Daniel Tomlinson, at the Resolution Foundation, said retailers now face the double blow of office employees working from home while the pandemic turbocharges a consumer switch to online shopping.
He said: “More of the jobs on the high street in the North East and North West are in retail than in the rest of the country, with smaller towns more exposed than big cities.
“The Government should extend the furlough scheme for the hardest-hit parts of the economy.”