North­ern high streets to be hit hard­est by Covid col­lapse in re­tail

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Front Page - By Lizzy Bur­den

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.”

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