Fears are growing that the high streets in areas on the Government’s list for “levelling up” will be the hardest hit by the impact of Covid-19 on retail and the decline of offices.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show the regions with high streets that have the highest proportion of retail addresses per office are Yorkshire and the Humber, the East Midlands and the North East, ranging from 3.9 to 4.9. London, however, had the lowest number of retail addresses per office at 1.6.
“The number of people with office jobs in city centres is a key component of bringing people in to be customers for retailers,” said Paul Swinney at the Centre for Cities think tank. “The weakest areas have much more retail space than office space – that does not seem to be sustainable.”
ONS analysis also shows that towns with the highest proportion of retail addresses include Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, at 84.9pc, and Workington, Allerdale, at 64.1pc.
Both are in “red wall” constituencies that returned Tory MPs in December’s general election after having backed Labour for decades.
Even before the pandemic, the new figures showed that high streets were suffering. Retail employment fell in more than three-quarters of local authorities between 2015 and 2018.
Daniel Tomlinson at the Resolution Foundation said high street retailers now faced the double blow of office employees working from home, as well as the pandemic accelerating the turn to online shopping.
“High streets across the country are suffering right now, with retail and hospitality jobs particularly affected in this crisis,” 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.
“To protect jobs, and to help high street businesses through the coming months, the Government should extend the furlough scheme for the hardest-hit parts of the economy to protect workers from a wave of redundancies.”