Shoppers creep back to high streets: Visits to retail centres rise 6% on the previous seven days


Shoppers are creeping back to high streets hammered by coronavirus, with visits to all UK retail destinations up six per cent on the previous week.

New data show all three destination types – shopping centres, high streets and retail parks – benefitted from the rise in footfall in the week to August 29.

Shopping centres, which were also boosted by wet weather, saw an increase of 9.1 per cent, high streets 4.8 per cent and retail parks 5 per cent – the best week for UK retail so far since the beginning of lockdown, analyst Springboard said. 

The retail expert added that the final week of August was boosted by Rishi Sunak’s hugely popular Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with hungry diners queuing hours for their final 50 per cent discounts yesterday at a cost of £400million to the taxpayer.

But the research also shows that the recovery of high streets is being ‘hampered by far lower levels of activity in large cities which account for the greatest volumes’ – meaning footfall is still 34.9 percent lower than last year. 

The numbers represents an annual decline of 26.1 per cent – an improvement on the year-on-year drop of 30.7 per cent in the previous week, researchers added. 

It comes amid warnings that London’s West End could lose £10billion a year and 50,000 jobs with visitors and office staff staying away from the city hotspot. 

People eating on restaurant tables placed outside on Old Compton St in Soho, London last night, as the Government initiative Eat Out to Help Out comes to an end

Shopping centres, which were also boosted by wet weather, saw an increase of 9.1 per cent, high streets 4.8 per cent and retail parks 5 per cent, Springboard said

Shopping centres, which were also boosted by wet weather, saw an increase of 9.1 per cent, high streets 4.8 per cent and retail parks 5 per cent, Springboard said

Retails expert Springboard said the final week of August was boosted by Rishi Sunak's Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with diners queuing hours for their final 50 per cent discounts yesterday

Retails expert Springboard said the final week of August was boosted by Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, with diners queuing hours for their final 50 per cent discounts yesterday

Shoppers were out this Bank Holiday Saturday doing their shopping with many people continuing to wear their face masks outside the shopping precinct

Shoppers were out this Bank Holiday Saturday doing their shopping with many people continuing to wear their face masks outside the shopping precinct

Springboard also noted that the just-finished three-day weekend showed a further improvement in shopper numbers for all retail destinations with an annual drop of 11 per cent up to 5 pm on Bank Holiday Monday.

It said footfall in central London and large cities still has a long way to go to reach anywhere near pre-Covid levels, but the result indicates some seeds of recovery.  

Britain’s retailers, already struggling with high rents, business taxes, tight margins and online competition, have been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic and state-sponsored lockdown. Thousands of job losses have already been announced. 

Diane Wehrle, from Springboard, said: ‘The last full week of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme led to the most positive footfall result of any week so far with increases in all three destination types from the week before, and year on year declines that were the most modest since the start of the lockdown. 

‘Not only did the week as a whole yield far more positive results those previously but, given the situation, we find ourselves in and the much cooler weather this year, the Bank Holiday weekend proved to be a remarkable success for retail destinations.’ 

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said up to 50,000 people in London’s retail sector faced losing their jobs due to a lack of visitors, with the loss of foreign tourists majorly impacting the economy. 

But the research also shows that the recovery of high streets is being 'hampered by far lower levels of activity in large cities' - meaning footfall is still 34.9 percent lower than last year

But the research also shows that the recovery of high streets is being ‘hampered by far lower levels of activity in large cities’ – meaning footfall is still 34.9 percent lower than last year

LONDON: Diners in central London's China Town last night making the most of the last ever Eat Out to Help Out - the Government's scheme to promote business amid the pandemic estimated to have cost the taxpayer £400million

LONDON: Diners in central London’s China Town last night making the most of the last ever Eat Out to Help Out – the Government’s scheme to promote business amid the pandemic estimated to have cost the taxpayer £400million

WINDSOR: Diners in busy Windsor, Berkshire, yesterday afternoon as thousands sought to make the most of the Chancellor's generous meal scheme

WINDSOR: Diners in busy Windsor, Berkshire, yesterday afternoon as thousands sought to make the most of the Chancellor’s generous meal scheme

BRIGHTON: A large queue forms outside Wagamamas in the city centre. The chain was where Rishi Sunak first launched the deal

BRIGHTON: A large queue forms outside Wagamamas in the city centre. The chain was where Rishi Sunak first launched the deal 

LEEDS: McDonald's has, unsurprisingly, done well out of the offer, with diners seen queuing outside this branch yesterday for table service

LEEDS: McDonald’s has, unsurprisingly, done well out of the offer, with diners seen queuing outside this branch yesterday for table service  

SOUTHAMPTON: Shangai Bay, a Chinese restaurant, was doing a roaring trade thanks to a stream of bargain hunters yesterday

SOUTHAMPTON: Shangai Bay, a Chinese restaurant, was doing a roaring trade thanks to a stream of bargain hunters yesterday

‘I’m SCARED and so are the students’: New teacher on his first day tells of fear at ‘no PPE’ in school where ‘social-distancing is impossible’ as millions of pupils in England and Wales return

Adam Woodward, 23, a Labour supporter who is starting teaching English at a college in Barnsley today, tweeted: 'I am scared and so are the students'

Adam Woodward, 23, a Labour supporter who is starting teaching English at a college in Barnsley today, tweeted: ‘I am scared and so are the students’

A newly-qualified teacher today revealed his fear at being back in school with no personal protective equipment on his first day in the job as millions of children in England and Wales returned to classes from the Covid-19 lockdown for the first time in six months.

Labour supporter Adam Woodward, 23, who is starting teaching at Horizon Community College in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, tweeted: ‘I’m about to begin my career as an NQT (newly qualified teacher) English teacher.

‘I will be teaching with no PPE, in an environment where social distancing is impossible. I am scared and so are the students. This Government has failed me and every child in every school. Shame on them.’

 

The Sheffield Hallam University graduate wrote about his fears as he posted a selfie of himself in a mask on a Northern Rail train this morning, while a study revealed pupils are three months behind since lockdown with boys and the poorer students hardest hit.

Government guidance states there is no general need for children to wear masks in schools, while the college’s rules state that any pupils who arrive wearing face coverings must take it off at the entrance. 

In a crucial moment for Boris Johnson’s drive to get the country back to ‘normal’, around 40 per cent of schools in England open today – with the rest later in the week.  

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Aiken said: ‘Almost half of the £10 billion annual spend in the West End is from overseas travellers and then the lack of office workers who have not been back at their desks since March, that has a huge effect on the overall turnover of West End shops and hospitality.

‘Between about 70 to 80 per cent – you’re basically looking at about 50,000 job losses retail job losses in West End retail alone.’

Ms Aiken said she suspected a ‘huge fall off in confidence’ regarding the perceived safety of public transport was partly behind the drop in shoppers, adding: ‘We’ve got to get that back, we’ve got to get businesses, the Mayor of London and Government to work together to provide that confidence to get people back in.’

A string of top firms across the country revealed their staff were pouring back into the office, with others saying they are considering plans to lure workers from their homes.

In a significant boost to the campaign to entice more office workers into city centres, many companies said they had recorded an uptick in employees getting back to their desks.

But Boris Johnson’s drive to get Whitehall back to work suffered a fresh blow as the head of the civil servants’ union threatened strikes if members were forced back to work before it is deemed safe.

Following a lockdown in which more than 95 per cent of civil servants worked from home, each Government department was asked in July to set rolling targets for the return.

Mr Johnson is expected to tell ministers to accelerate the process this week, following a ‘slow’ response. 

He is said to believe civil servants should ‘set an example’ to the rest of the country. 

But Mark Serwotka, of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.’

Environment Secretary George Eustice yesterday appeared to undermine the initiative by revealing he had no ‘target’, adding: ‘We won’t get a 100 per cent return to work.’ 

Last week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was happy for officials to stay at home if they got the job done. 

The news comes in a Daily Mail audit of 30 FTSE 100 and top firms, representing more than 150,000 employees.

High street chain Boots was among those recording a steady rise in attendance, with around a third of its office staff now back at their desks at least a few days a week. 

No cases of Covid-19 have been recorded among this cohort.

In a further boost, the boss of recruitment giant Hays vowed there would be no ‘turning our back on the office’.

Alistair Cox said full-time remote working was unlikely to become ‘permanent’. But he also predicted offices will be closed as companies assess whether to switch permanently to a ‘hybrid’ model, where home and office working are balanced.

Meanwhile Edinburgh said it had seen a two million slump in visitor numbers in August, with hospitality chiefs saying the absence of 25,000 performers and the demise of ‘the after-work pint’ contributed to the fall.

The number of people on the streets of the Scottish capital was down to 700,000 in August compared to 2.7million in the same month last year.

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said 50,000 jobs could be at risk

Nickie Aiken, Tory MP for Cities of London and Westminster, said 50,000 jobs could be at risk

Ms Aitken said that £10 billion a year could be missing from the West End through lockdown

Ms Aitken said that £10 billion a year could be missing from the West End through lockdown

Edinburgh has reported a shortfall of some two million visitors during lockdown

Edinburgh has reported a shortfall of some two million visitors during lockdown

The Edinburgh Hotels Association said the average occupancy was down to just 50 per cent in August – at a time when they would normally be almost full.

The average price of a hotel room was just £76 – down 52 per cent on the same period in 2019 – as prices were slashed to try to drum up business.

Association chiefs described the situation as ‘much worse than expected’.  

On Sunday it emerged Capita, one of the UK’s big employers, will become the first major British firm to pull out of city and town centres by closing nearly 100 offices.

The Government contractor – which collects the BBC licence fee and runs the London congestion charge – is set to close more than a third of its 250 offices across Britain; its 45,000 UK staff will continue to work from home.

Businesses have said the cancellation of the world-famous festival had hit Edinburgh hard

Businesses have said the cancellation of the world-famous festival had hit Edinburgh hard

London Waterloo train station, which is Britain's busiest train station, was still very quiet shortly before 8am this morning

London Waterloo train station, which is Britain’s busiest train station, was still very quiet shortly before 8am this morning

London Victoria train station appeared to be mostly empty at 7.30am today, despite it being the UK's second busiest station

London Victoria train station appeared to be mostly empty at 7.30am today, despite it being the UK’s second busiest station

A near-empty London King's Cross train station at 8.30am this morning as commuters continue to shun trains

A near-empty London King’s Cross train station at 8.30am this morning as commuters continue to shun trains

An empty London Paddington station is pictured towards the end of rush hour at 9.30am this morning

An empty London Paddington station is pictured towards the end of rush hour at 9.30am this morning

Nobody can be seen on this Central line train from White City into London this morning despite it being rush hour at 8am

Nobody can be seen on this Central line train from White City into London this morning despite it being rush hour at 8am

People go through the ticket barriers as they travel through London Waterloo station during rush hour this morning

People go through the ticket barriers as they travel through London Waterloo station during rush hour this morning

A very quiet southbound platform at Baker Street station in London on the Bakerloo line at about 8.30am this morning

A very quiet southbound platform at Baker Street station in London on the Bakerloo line at about 8.30am this morning

Commuter Guy Peppiatt said there was only one other person in his Tube carriage on the Circle line shortly before 10am today

Commuter Guy Peppiatt said there was only one other person in his Tube carriage on the Circle line shortly before 10am today

An empty Circle and Hammersmith & City line platform at Baker Street station in Central London at 7.45am this morning

An empty Circle and Hammersmith & City line platform at Baker Street station in Central London at 7.45am this morning

A mostly empty platform at East Finchley on the London Underground's Northern line at about 7.45am this morning

A mostly empty platform at East Finchley on the London Underground’s Northern line at about 7.45am this morning

Rob Walsh tweeted this picture of an empty Earlswood railway station in Surrey at 7.40am today, tweeting: 'The back to work messaging might need beefing up! Peak time train to London Bridge. Platform usually v busy. Ten passengers today'

Rob Walsh tweeted this picture of an empty Earlswood railway station in Surrey at 7.40am today, tweeting: ‘The back to work messaging might need beefing up! Peak time train to London Bridge. Platform usually v busy. Ten passengers today’

Andy Lulham photographed an empty Greater Anglia train at 8am today, saying he 'missed the early train to London so had to take the busy one'

Andy Lulham photographed an empty Greater Anglia train at 8am today, saying he ‘missed the early train to London so had to take the busy one’

The news will be a major blow to Boris Johnson’s back to work campaign, which is to be launched this week.

Civil servants ‘may strike’ if they are forced to return to work 

Boris Johnson’s drive to get Whitehall back to work suffered a fresh blow yesterday as the head of the civil servants’ union threatened strikes if members were forced back to work before it is deemed safe.

Following a lockdown in which more than 95 per cent of civil servants worked from home, each Government department was asked in July to set rolling targets for the return. Mr Johnson is expected to tell ministers to accelerate the process this week, following a ‘slow’ response.

He is said to believe civil servants should ‘set an example’ to the rest of the country. But Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union, said: ‘As a last resort, if you have no other option and people’s health and safety is at risk, of course we would be prepared to consider industrial action.’ 

On Sunday it also emerged that BP is planning to sell its central London headquarters as part of a permanent shift in working patterns.

The developments will heighten fears for city centre businesses, from sandwich shops and pubs to dry cleaners and hairdressers, which rely on footfall from offices.

Last week CBI boss Dame Carolyn Fairbairn said working from home had turned some commercial centres into ‘ghost towns’. 

But in a glimmer of hope, several firms surveyed by the Mail said either workers were starting to trickle back or that plans were being drawn-up for bigger increases.

Many said numbers returning will rest on the Government’s success at getting children back to school this week.

Auditing giant PricewaterhouseCoopers said around a third of its 24,700 office workers were now spending at least some time at their desks and that this was increasing. 

And insurance giant Aviva expects numbers at desks to double in the coming weeks.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘The Government has to lead the way and tell civil servants and companies ‘get back to work’.’

Derek Ray-Hill, from Cities Restart – a venture being launched next month to get people back to work, said: ‘Business leaders need to put on a mask, wash their hands and get back to work. 

‘They can’t keep waiting for someone else to take the lead.’

It comes after figures last week revealed only 17 per cent of staff have returned to work in the 63 biggest cities. Capita and BP did not respond to requests for comment.

One in six parents in England and Wales are ‘seriously considering’ keeping their children out of school

One in six parents in England and Wales are ‘seriously considering’ keeping their children out of school, a poll found today.

Some 17 per cent are so worried about their sons and daughters going back into the classroom that they might not let them go in, including 6 per cent who say they are ‘very seriously’ considering keeping them at home.

The Parents Omnibus survey conducted by YouGov interviewed 653 parents of school-age children, aged between four and 16, in England and Wales.

However, 70 per cent of them are either not very seriously contemplating keeping their children at home, while 53 per cent are not considering it at all.

The study also found that nearly half of parents (47 per cent) think that masks should be worn, compared to 36 per cent who are opposed.

Meanwhile almost half of parents (48 per cent) think it is unfair for parents to be fined for keeping their children out of school if they are scared about coronavirus, although nearly four in ten (39 per cent) think it is justified.

Ocado chairman STUART ROSE warns Boris Johnson can forget his ‘levelling up’ if workers don’t return to the office and Britain PLC faces going bust

By Stuart Rose for the Mail on Sunday 

The Government has done a first-class job in frightening people about Covid-19 – perhaps the only thing it’s done really well in the past six months. Today, many millions of otherwise sensible British citizens fear that this virus could kill them and that Covid could even pose a threat to humanity itself.

They are wrong. And the result of this needless fear is a destructive limbo – a new normal of half-empty trains, deserted cinemas and shops without customers.

Banks are shutting early, choirs are silent, many swimming pools lie empty while professional sport has become an eerie ritual for TV viewers only. The fact that so many are starting to embrace this shrunken life, even as we haemorrhage businesses and jobs, is truly dangerous.

And at the very heart of this zombie economy are the empty offices in towns and cities across the country, amid claims that working from home is not only viable for most white-collar workers, but somehow beneficial and more productive.

I disagree profoundly: to abandon our places of work is to make a catastrophic error. The economic arguments scarcely need repeating.

Ministers must convince people that travelling on public transport is not a serious health risk, writes STUART ROSE (file image)

Ministers must convince people that travelling on public transport is not a serious health risk, writes STUART ROSE (file image)

Offices and their workers are, or rather were, the life blood of city centres which were already dying. Millions more jobs will be lost when the furlough scheme ends in the coming weeks. Today, The Mail on Sunday reveals that the economic hit could be as high as half a trillion pounds.

And, after a lifetime in business, from Marks & Spencer to my current roles chairing a number of diverse companies, I can tell you that offices are important for other reasons, too.

They are social hubs where lifelong friendships can be made; they provide an invaluable educational tool to workers as a space where people can better themselves by watching, listening and learning from their colleagues; and they are places that buzz, full of creative energy and enthusiasm where ideas get sparked and developed.

I’m particularly concerned that a mass shift towards home working will widen what is already a troubling social divide. The old saying that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer will become more of a reality for Britain. We can forget any of Boris Johnson’s ‘levelling up’ if working from home continues.

For if the office dies, how will our youngsters learn to get on in life? Rubbing shoulders with those who are more experienced is an important part of growing up.

One of the key ways that people advance is by learning how to connect and how to improve themselves. You can’t do that looking at a computer screen. It is not all about intelligence and knowledge, it is about how we learn to deal with situations, how to collaborate and how to navigate life.

When I started as a trainee manager at Marks & Spencer in the early 1970s, I learnt on the job and from my peers and older colleagues around me. As a junior I would get the opportunity to sit in on meetings to learn from elders and betters. I fed off working with some very energetic and brilliant colleagues.

I learnt new skills, how not to do things and how to handle myself. And when I was a senior manager I always tried to make sure that my employees got something from me that might improve their abilities, understanding and knowledge. Staff in every office up and down the country are there to offer advice, guidance and encouragement to younger colleagues at every level. How can you possibly learn this stuff sitting at a computer screen at home, a home, moreover, that might be cramped, noisy and quite unsuitable for work?

And at the very heart of this zombie economy are the empty offices in towns and cities across the country, amid claims that working from home is not only viable for most white-collar workers, but somehow beneficial and more productive, writes STUART ROSE (file image)

Neither remote or flexible working are new, both have been around a long time. There is a reason, however, that neither have been adopted by firms on a mass scale.

Indeed, we have seen in the past six months that there is a limit to how far we can push it.

I, too, have spent the past six months staring at a screen, whether on Zoom or Microsoft Teams, conducting meetings, running boards and holding senior management meetings. These virtual meetings are not anywhere near as effective as the real thing. Why? Because if you are chairing, or participating in, a meeting over your computer rather than in person, how can you get a true feel of what is going on?

It is very hard to read the room; to see who is pulling a face; or who is coming along grudgingly; or who has come to make a point. Business might get done to some extent but certainly not as effectively.

What’s more, everyone works better in teams rather than as individuals, that is how the best ideas emerge. For us to even think that a workforce can be as productive independently rather than in a team is utter nonsense. Many white-collar workers are simply playing a game and dragging their heels. Yet much of the backbone of Britain have had no choice but to return to work; whether builders, hairdressers, plumbers or delivery men and women. At the moment it feels like the tail wagging the dog when it comes to our office workers and this must change.

There is a case to be made that there should be consequences for those members of staff who are not willing to return, whether that means a reduction in salary or removing other benefits.

At the same time, there needs to be a massive ramping up of effective testing to give staff the confidence that regular health monitoring is in place at their workplaces. So how do we stop this crazy situation, in which some people are going back to work in dribs and drabs, and others are dictating their own terms?

First, the Government has a huge role to play. While the right noises are being made, they need to amend their social distancing measures in offices which are a huge stumbling block. If they insist on the two- metre rule and stopping more than four people getting into a lift at the same time, then how are large offices to function? This should be looked at as a matter of urgency.

Everyone works better in teams rather than as individuals, that is how the best ideas emerge, writes STUART ROSE (file image)

Everyone works better in teams rather than as individuals, that is how the best ideas emerge, writes STUART ROSE (file image)

Second, Ministers must convince people that travelling on public transport is not a serious health risk. Instead, they have created logjams on roads in London and a ghost town below on the Tube. It is absurd. Ultimately, if you tell people that it is dangerous to get on public transport, regardless of face coverings or staggered timings, then they will understandably refuse to use it.

We are at a crossroads: we either get people back to their offices and at full productivity immediately, or we accept this way of working and the dire costs that will come with it. The current situation is unsustainable. Many will have enjoyed their spring and summer breaks without a commute – the opportunity to see more of their families and enjoy the sunny weather in their gardens or local parks, while saving money on travel, food and coffee.

Winter, however, is approaching, and as the long nights draw in, we will be exposed to the cold, dark and extremely harsh economic and social realities of abandoning the office. Today we know far more about the virus than we did in March and we understand that it impacts some more than others.

We can’t keep living in such a state of fear. Millions of Britons are, essentially, fine to return to work. Many people have no choice but to go out and work, from NHS staff, bus drivers, supermarket workers and many others, so why should there be one rule for one and one rule for another?

It is time for some real leadership, from business leaders and from the Government. These people are paid to make tough, and unpopular, decisions.

The Government needs to make sure that their departments take the lead – they must demand that civil servants return immediately. Equally, the private sector needs to also be more demanding of its workforce and stop allowing the tail to wag the dog.

Of course, pressurising staff to go back might be unpopular with some but unless the UK returns to its offices our society will be permanently damaged and our economy simply will not function. It is hard to comprehend but UK PLC faces going bust.

The choice is yours, Britain.

The fee for this article has been donated to the Mvumi School, Tanzania. 

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