Jan 14, 2021
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Post-pandemic retail job losses will be huge says KPMG study

Jan 14, 2021

More than 400,000 high street retail jobs could be lost as more people will continue to work from home and shop online after the coronavirus pandemic. That’s the grim outlook in a study by accountancy firm KPMG.

Photo: Sandra Halliday

The combination of home working and online shopping could see a 10%-27% reduction in the flow of commuters into towns and cities compared to pre-Covid levels, KPMG estimates.

But the report also warned some places would record a bigger decline in commuter footfall than others. This would accelerate the hollowing-out of high street shopping in these locations, it noted.

Retail in towns such as Bracknell, Hemel Hempstead and Basingstoke are deemed most at risk as affluent centres in the south are among the most vulnerable to a high street downturn.

According to its research of 109 towns and cities, up to 27.4% of jobs in Bracknell were expected to be still done from home, even after physical-distancing measures have been relaxed. KPMG said this would deliver a heavy blow to retailers in the Berkshire town because it would reduce commuter footfall, leading to the loss of as many as 1,505 jobs, or about 38% of the local retail sector.

The percentages were similar in towns including Basingstoke, Hemel Hempstead, Warrington and Guildford, which KPMG ranked among the most vulnerable locations in England for high street job losses. Swindon, Watford, Slough, Stockport and Basildon rounded out the top 10 towns likely to be hit the hardest.

According to KPMG, northern towns such as Burnley, Bradford and Huddersfield rank among those the least affected by the crisis, in part because fewer jobs in these places can be done remotely.

The report also said the retail sector in major cities would remain resilient, because cultural amenities would continue to attract visitors after the relaxation of Covid restrictions, helping to cushion the blow from fewer commuters.

According to the report, London, Liverpool, Burnley and Birmingham will ultimately be the most resilient to the economic impact of further home working and online shopping, despite the hige problems they face at present.

Yael Selfin, the chief economist at KPMG in the UK, told The Guardian: “As people travel less for work or to shop, town and city centres will need alternative offerings to fill vacant space and to attract people to the area as we hopefully leave the pandemic behind sometime this year.

“High streets will need to be reimagined as cultural and recreational hubs that will act as magnets for businesses and jobs able to transform less prosperous areas”. 

Chris Hearld, head of regions at KPMG UK, also told The Independent: “As we leave the pandemic behind, towns and cities across the UK will need help and space to rethink the purpose of their centres.

“Fostering collaboration between businesses and local policymakers can help rethink the journey to work with a focus on lower carbon, more customer-orientated and better-connected transport networks, and it will be important to prioritise investment in high-speed broadband and 5G connectivity”.

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