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Can we get people back to UK towns and cities?

Published: Tuesday 4th August 2020

The government’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme was launched this week to help get people back to UK towns and cities. The government is providing discounts up to £10 for people eating out to help the UK economy. Approximately 72,000 establishments across the UK have joined the scheme. ‘Eat out to help out’ will run on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays for the whole of August. The move comes as concerns grow that many businesses are considering leaving cities for good because of coronavirus.

an office with an empty long board table

Will UK cities remain deserted?

However, some companies appear reluctant despite the government’s efforts to get people back to UK towns and cities. Pablo Shah, senior economist at the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), said cities should be worried. He added that locations like London may have forever lost their “fun” work image. CEBR also said sectors such as finance could see a 70% drop in employees working in the city because of coronavirus. Such a fall would have enormous consequences for the capital. Furthermore, CEBR revealed that shops, pubs and eateries near employment hubs in London saw a £2.3bn drop in spending between March and June.

Do UK people want to get back to towns and cities?

Despite the government’s efforts to get people back to UK towns and cities, some companies are resisting. Google and NatWest Group have  announced employees can continue working from home until 2021. This follows Lloyds, HSBC and Barclays saying offices will remain closed until September at the earliest. Meanwhile, SSE and National Grid also currently reviewing staff working arrangements.

Whilst some sectors report slight falls in productivity, particularly amongst younger workers, others are seeing the opposite occur. The Guardian newspaper reports a growing number of companies are now reviewing their office locations. With office rental space so expensive in major UK cities, some companies are questioning the need.

Pedestrianised high street in Winchester, Hampshire, UK

Are cities fighting back?

In response to claims businesses will simply move away from expensive urban areas, one city is fighting back. The city of York has been hit hard by coronavirus. Around 1 in 4 jobs there have been badly hit by covid-19, with almost a third of the city’s private sector employees currently furloughed. The local council has begun an ambitious marketing campaign to try and increase footfall in the city. Launched on Yorkshire Day, the city will spend £100,000 on a six-month drive to attract tourists back to the area. Experts predict other cities may follow in an attempt to save the UK economy.

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