Homeworking leaves hospitality sector up to 25 per cent worse off

New briefing from Centre for Cities compares weekday footfall and spending data for UK city centres against pre-pandemic levels

Press release published on 16 June 2022

  • Centre for Cities compared weekday footfall and spending data for UK city centres against pre-pandemic levels
  • In city centres with high proportions of homeworkers, spending on food and drink is significantly down
  • Cities should address this issue by creating more city centre jobs and implementing creative spatial planning

Homeworking is significantly hindering the recovery of the high street, with hospitality businesses especially affected, according to a new report from Centre for Cities published today (Thursday 16 June).

In March 2022 – two months after working from home guidance was lifted – weekday spending on food and drink in city centres with high numbers of office workers – such as in London, Reading, and Oxford – remained up to 25 per cent below 2019 levels, as people continued to work remotely.

While more workers have returned since, the recovery has remained sluggish. If homeworking and hybrid working patterns continue long term, high street businesses will need to adapt to a permanently reduced number of customers and some may struggle to survive, resulting in thousands of job losses.

Centre for Cities’ new report, entitled Homeworking and the High Street, compares weekday footfall and spending data for UK city centres in March 2022 to their pre-pandemic levels. The data shows that those with higher rates of homeworkers have seen the slowest recovery in high street hospitality sales.

Key findings include:

  • In March 2022, in Reading, where weekday footfall was 15 per cent lower than before the pandemic, there was a 25 per cent drop in weekday food and drink spending, compared to 2019 levels.
  • Cambridge’s weekday footfall was down 20 per cent, with hospitality spending down 15 per cent.
  • Oxford’s footfall was down 25 per cent, with hospitality spending down 14 per cent.
  • London, which had the largest drop in footfall at 40 per cent, saw weekday spending on food and drink down 21 per cent.

In contrast, places like Barnsley, Burnley, and Doncaster, which have a lower proportion of office jobs in their city centres, saw weekday footfall and spending figures bounce back to pre-pandemic levels by March this year.

The report published today urges policymakers to address low footfall and spending in city centres by creating more jobs in these areas. While workers in these jobs may not be in the office full time, boosting the overall number of people commuting into city centres throughout the week would still increase the size of the market that food and drink and other high street businesses can sell to.

In addition, cities should also deliver policies to make high streets more attractive to customers – for example, by improving transport links or pedestrianising areas where appropriate.

Beyond this, the role of policy should be to help city centres grow and adapt to a ‘new normal’. This could be done through supporting the repurposing of vacant high street units and city centre space to meet reconfigured demand, such as converting them into housing or offices.

Centre for Cities CEO Andrew Carter said:

“The pandemic undoubtedly shook city centres to their core as lockdowns kept people at home and businesses closed. Now as we recover from the last two years, the future of some of our high streets looks uncertain.

“Our data shows homeworking has been significantly impacting hospitality sales, especially in cities with high numbers of offices. Now, as we grapple with a cost of living crisis, recovery for these businesses will be even more difficult.

“Helping city centres grow and adapt to a reconfigured demand will be vital to keeping our high streets prosperous and vibrant. To do this, policymakers will need to attract more high-skilled workers to city centres while also thinking creatively about how vacant units could be repurposed – whether that be for office, commercial or residential uses.”

Notes to editors

  • A full copy of the Homeworking and the High Street report can be found here.

About Centre for Cities

  • Centre for Cities is a research and policy institute, dedicated to improving the economic success of UK cities.
  • We are a charity that works with cities, business and Whitehall to develop and implement policy that supports the performance of urban economies. We do this through impartial research and knowledge exchange.

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