U.K. City Center Offices Drawing Just 18% of Staff, Study Finds
Fewer than one-in-five office workers in the U.K. have returned to city center workplaces since restrictions were relaxed, reflecting both summer vacations and a reluctance to commute.
Just 18% of people in the U.K.’s 31 largest cities have returned to their normal workplace, the Center for Cities research group said, citing analysis of mobile phone location data. Daytime worker footfall fell by 1% during the final week of July when most Covid-19 rules were dropped. The group doesn’t expect footfall to pick up before September.
The figures indicate headwinds facing restaurants and retailers that depend on office workers, adding to evidence of slower momentum in consumer-facing parts of the economy that enjoyed a quick spurt of growth when lockdowns eased.
“Companies may well have found that it was pointless to encourage people to come back to work because of the holiday period,” Paul Swinney, director of research for the Center for Cities, said in an interview. He noted that fears about being “pinged” and told to isolate by the official test-and-trace app may have contributed to employee caution.
Some companies such as the financial adviser Perella Weinberg Partners have delayed their return to office plans because of the Delta variant of the virus, and there’s an acceptance among businesses that a growing portion of a permanent shift to more working remotely.
In a separate report, the Resolution Foundation found that areas reliant on commuters had lagged popular holiday destinations in the labor market recovery. Jobs in popular holiday spots such as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are already at or above pre-pandemic levels for employment, while London is languishing at more than 3% below.
“A structural shift to more home-working or less commuting could have a lasting impact on the geography of the U.K. labor market,” Charlie McCurdy, a Resolution Foundation economist, wrote in the report.
Swinney said it government ministers will need to take a firmer stance in favor of office working before more people return because “it’s difficult for individual business to stick their head above the parapet” and impose the change on staff.
The reports also noted:
- Higher wage-areas in general, such as Edinburgh and Aberdeen, are experiencing “significantly higher” declines in employment than lower-wage places, said McCurdy
- Tourist destinations Blackpool and Bournemouth were the only cities surveyed by the Center for Cities that recovered to average levels of footfall they enjoyed before the pandemic
- Visitor numbers are “likely to fall once summer ends”
- Night-time footfall jumped the most in Blackpool and Sunderland
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