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UK High Streets Remain Quiet as Businesses Struggle to Get Back to Normal

The UK’s return to work following lockdown continues to be worryingly slow. However, a report by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) confirmed that the number of people travelling to work has increased slightly in recent weeks.

The Latest Numbers

The ONS stated that 57% of British working adults travelled to their workplace in the days from 26 August to the 30th of that month. This was a modest increase from the 55% that made this trip a couple of weeks earlier, and a more significant jump from the 33% reported in May.

They also pointed out that the number of people working solely from their homes dropped from 22% to 20%. This had been almost as high as 40% of the working population in June. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been urging people to return to work to support the economy.

The fear is that reduced footfall is turning the country’s town centres into ghost towns where shops and other companies that rely on commuters are struggling to survive. This has impacted businesses, some of whom have opted for the debt collection process to keep ticking over.

Close to 11% of shop premises were empty in July, making this the highest level of unoccupied city centre shops in 6 years. This compares to 9.8% at the start of the year, with Greater London being the hardest-hit region.

The ONS figures suggest that retail areas in the UK have seen footfall reach over 75% of the amount seen in the same period in 2019. In London, the number of cars, pedestrians and cyclists on the roads was said to be getting close to pre-lockdown amounts.

Yet, a separate report from Springboard pointed to there being 40% fewer visitors to high streets and city centres in August than in the same month in 2019. Retail parks were less badly affected, with just an 11% decline noted.

The survey also showed that coastal towns and market towns performed better than major cities. Those towns by the seaside had a 24% drop in visitors. Market towns reported a 27% fall in the amount of people visiting them.

The Jobs Market

One situation that could greatly affect the return to normality in the high streets is the jobs market. With the government’s furlough scheme due to wind down soon, it is thought that more businesses are planning to reduce their staff numbers.

The ONS looked at the number of online job vacancies, and found that the total was about 55% of the average amount seen in 2019. A different survey also came out from the Bank of England, revealing that UK businesses expect lower sales and higher unemployment levels to carry on into 2021.

The Bank’s Decision Maker Panel Survey was carried out in the period between August 7 and 21. It showed that the number of employees on furlough fell from 18% in July to 12% the following month. This follows on from the peak of 36% that was reported in April.