Report predicts Stevenage's retail jobs to be cut by almost a third in post-COVID world

shop closing down sale sign

The report predicts the loss of almost 1,400 retail jobs in Stevenage. - Credit: Archant

How will Stevenage bounce back in a post-COVID world?

That is the question at the heart of a new survey by leading international finance company KPMG, looking at how COVID-19 will transform England's towns and city centres after the pandemic.

The accelerated shift to online retail has already taken its toll on the high street, with Stevenage expected to lose 1,393 jobs in the industry (31 per cent). St Albans is predicted to lose 28 per cent of its retail (1,680 jobs), compared to 31 per cent in Hemel and 32 per cent in Watford (2,431).

The report predicts that 15.2 per cent of jobs in Stevenage are expected to still be done from home post-COVID, compared to 19.6 per cent in St Albans, 21.3 in Watford and a massive 27.4 per cent in Hemel Hempstead.

The company's UK chief economist Yael Selfin said: "The pandemic has accelerated the adoption of online shopping, with consumers more likely to purchase household goods online than in a store. It has also made working from home acceptable and online gatherings rather than meeting in person the new norm, freeing endless hours of business travel and expense for better use.

"People are unlikely to return to the old ways of doing things. With fewer people coming in to big cities and towns to work and shop, that leaves a big space in areas that were once characterised by bustling shops and offices.

"The high streets of the future will need to become multi-purpose locations, combining retail and hospitality amenities with residential, education, healthcare, cultural, technology, community and more. Office space will need to be transformed for three main purposes: collaboration, creativity and culture, with less space devoted to tasks that could be done remotely."

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The shift away from travelling for work and shopping puts pressure on town and city centres to find alternative attractions to fill vacant space once social distancing restrictions are lifted.

Cllr Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, said: “The pandemic has had a devastating effect on our community, through the tragic cases of those who have suffered so greatly from the virus, but also the deep financial pain it has meant for so many local people and companies. 

"Stevenage Borough Council has been working hard to provide support to local jobs, by issuing over £14m funding to those businesses that the government has required to be closed - helping more than 2,200 local businesses with their costs.

"While the swift roll out of vaccines does bring hope, it is vital that government put in place funding to help local businesses get back on their feet, especially as so many of had been trading successfully prior to the pandemic.

“We have been working with local partners such as North Herts College and the Department for Work and Pensions to put in schemes such as a the ‘Stevenage Works’ project to help local people into apprenticeships and jobs in areas such as construction, and to benefit from the regeneration projects in the town. 

"We have set up an Economy Taskforce to provide retraining opportunities and routes into good quality jobs in the local area, working with local partners to provide support to those who find themselves out of work or at risk of being out of work. 

"The pandemic has brought suffering and tragic consequences for so many families. We will do all we can to create opportunities within the town and support those who are at risk, and will continue to lobby government for funding that can help businesses bounce back from this uncertainty."

KPMG's report also combined the impact of home working and loss of retail outlets with the strength of current cultural assets, to calculate an index of vulnerability for towns and cities in England.

Ranking the aforementioned locations in Herts from least to most affected by the pandemic, the scores were Stevenage (-0.23), St Albans (-0.37), Watford (-0.81) and Hemel (-1.80), all hit relatively hard by the lack of commuter footfall and retail offering.

This compares to the likes of Liverpool (0.97), Birmingham (0.88), York (0.64) and Oxford (0.57), which all benefit from a strong cultural offering that partially compensates for the loss in commuter footfall and high street retail.

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