Seaside towns lead the post-lockdown march back to normality

Seaside towns lead the march back to normality: Interactive map shows how places like Blackpool and Southend are beginning to bustle with shoppers and office staff… while Britain’s cities lag behind

  • Blackpool, Bournemouth and Southend are becoming busy with shoppers, workers and tourists again
  • Birkenhead, Basildon, Chatham and Doncaster are all seen higher levels of footfall than pre-lockdown
  • But footfall levels in London are still only just a quarter of what they were – lowest of any UK town or city
  • Numbers of people in Birmingham, Cardiff, Oxford and Manchester also remains under half previous levels

Seaside towns are leading the return to normality after Britain’s coronavirus lockdown – with Blackpool, Bournemouth and Southend among the areas becoming busy with shoppers, workers and tourists again.  

Data revealed the three coastal resorts along with Birkenhead, Basildon, Chatham and Doncaster have all seen higher levels of footfall over the past week than before restrictions were imposed in March.

But footfall levels in London are still only just a quarter of what they were ahead of lockdown – the lowest of any UK town or city – while they also remain under half in Leeds, Birmingham, Cardiff, Oxford and Manchester.

The footfall league tables were revealed in an interactive map published by the Centre for Cities think tank, which also found only 17 per cent of workers in British cities had returned to their workplaces by early August.

It comes as :

  • Official figures showed high streets in the country are rebounding at a slower rate than shopping centres;
  • One of Britain’s top business leaders fears UK commercial centres could become permanent ‘ghost towns’;
  • An audit of almost 30 major employers found most have only a small percentage of staff back in the office;
  • The PM wants government departments to draw up plans for getting more civil servants back to Whitehall.

Centre for Cities said the data from earlier this month, based on mobile phone signals, showed no increase in the footfall of workers going to city centres between late June and the week starting August 3. 

This graphic shows the average footfall in town or city centre for the last week of August, compared to pre-lockdown levels. The darker the green, the closer the city centre is to its pre-lockdown levels. 

Scroll down and click on your local city or town for more in-depth information

Beachgoers soak up the sun at Bournemouth beach in Dorset on August 10 which has been a popular post-lockdown location

Locals and daytrippers enjoy the warm weather at Southend-on-Sea beach in Essex on August 7 during the heatwave

People enjoy the hot weather at Blackpool beach in Lancashire which has also been a popular destination in recent weeks

But footfall is now on the rise in some areas – most notably in Blackpool which saw footfall last week at 130 per cent of pre-lockdown levels, followed by 128 per cent in Bournemouth and 115 per cent in Southend.

Part of the reason for this may be holidaymakers heading to the resorts for a summer staycation, with data from before lockdown taken during wintry weather when Britons would have been less likely to visit the coast.

But as Prime Minister Boris Johnson tries to steer the UK away from its coronavirus shutdown, the return to the office and high streets is also taking place in inland locations such as Burnley, Telford and Warrington.

However there are still very low footfall levels in major cities such as Bristol and Nottingham, as well as Aberdeen and Leicester which have had local lockdowns imposed amid a spike in Covid-19 cases in those areas. 

Footfall in town and city centre streets has stagnated in recent weeks, while out-of town retail parks and urban shopping centres are slowly moving back towards their original footfall, the Office for National Statistics said

The ONS also found 13 per cent of workers are still on paid furlough, with almost one in four (39 per cent) of companies topping up their wages

British workers are the most reluctant to return to the office because of fears of a second wave of coronavirus, a study found

A lone man looks across the River Thames from the South Bank in Central London on Monday

It comes as new official figures showed Britain’s high streets are rebounding at a slower rate than shopping centres, with the data revealing how the reluctance of staff to return to workplaces is harming businesses.

What are some of Britain’s biggest firms saying? 

Natwest Group: 49,000 staff working from home, around 10,000 staff in branches and offices

Most not expected to return to the office until next year. A spokesman said: ‘We told colleagues they will continue to work from home until 2021 – because we’re prioritising customer and colleague health and wellbeing.’

HSBC: 52,000 UK staff, 46,000 working from home

Bank has said it does not have any plans for a return to the office before September at the earliest. Even then, it expects offices to be ‘less than 20 per cent’ full.

Virgin Money: 6,900 of 8,500 staff office-based

Staff told not to return to office until 2021. Proposals to let back-office employees work from home for most of the time and for offices in Glasgow and Newcastle to become ‘collaboration hubs’ for meetings.

Metro Bank: 1,500 staff

One of two London offices to close permanently, staff to work from home until at least January. Afterwards, they will work from home for minimum of three days.

IG Group: 750 UK staff

Main London office is to open from September 7. But chief operating officer Jon Noble said: ‘No one will be required to return to the office (if they don’t want to) for the rest of 2020.’

JP Morgan: 16,000 UK staff

Staff will swap between working from home and the office, according to the head of the investment bank, Daniel Pinto.

Lloyds Bank: 50,000 of 63,000 staff working from home

No plans for an imminent return to the office. From October, bank will test different types of flexible working to decide how often staff will visit the office. It is looking for ways to reduce the office space it uses.

UBS: Majority of 5,000 staff working from home Gradual return to office expected in coming months, but staff are likely to work from home more often in future.

Barclays: 80,000 staff globally, 70,000 working at home

From October, the gradual return of more staff is set to begin. Boss Jes Staley has said he wants to get staff ‘back together’.

Santander: 18,000 UK office staff, more than 15,000 of whom are working from home. This is expected to continue until at least the end of this month. 

Ernst and Young: 11,200 office staff

Firm said it had consulted staff and offices will re-open from September 7, but on a ‘reduced capacity basis’ and ‘increase steadily over time in line with the guidelines set by the UK’. 

Deloitte: 20,000 office-based staff

Most still working from home. Small number of offices reopened in July, with more being considered. 

KPMG: 16,000 UK office staff

No more than 10 per cent of office staff have returned for ‘business-critical reasons’. Vast majority will work from home for most of the year. Anna Purchas of KPMG said: ‘We anticipate that the majority of our people will work from home for the majority of 2020.’

BT: 40,000 of 52,000 office staff working at home

Around 10,000 staff in ‘critical customer and network operations teams’ have continued to attend the office. Staff will begin ‘gradual’ return from September.

AstraZeneca: 8,300 UK office staff

Pharmaceutical giant says 75 per cent of are still working from home. They will not start returning until September, when a ‘phased approach’ will begin. 

Glaxosmithkline: 15,000 UK staff

Only small numbers back in the office. No date announced for major return, although scientists have been working on site for most of crisis.

PWC: 8,000 of 22,000 going in to the office.

About 50 per cent are expected to have returned by the end of September under current plans, but it’s ‘entirely voluntary’.

Rolls-Royce: 14,000 office staff

Only a ‘very small percentage’ of its office-based staff have returned. Has not announced detailed plans for when they will go back. A spokesman said: ‘Depending on the nature of our employee’s role, flexible working arrangements have been expanded and made available.’ 

Scottish and Southern Energy: 10,000 office staff

Majority expected to continue working from home until at least October. A spokesman said: ‘we conducted an in-depth survey of our employees’ experiences and opinions and are acting on their feedback. Work continues on a phased return plan.’

Unilever: 2,000 office staff

The firm has said it believes working patterns will never return fully to normal. Boss Alan Jope said he foresees it being ‘many more months’ before staff begin returning to the office. He added: ‘We think we will never be back to 100 per cent of workers’ time being in the office.’

BP: 6,500 office staff in UK

Only a ‘small number’ are returning, and it may be months before things return to normal. It is reviewing its offices and could shift 50,000 staff globally to remote working. Chief executive Bernard Looney said: ‘Work patterns are changing. We expect to move to a more hybrid work style.’ 

Vodaphone: About 7,850 office staff

Only a very small number of staff have returned to the office. Firm broadly expects ‘to stay as we are’ until the end of 2020. It expects to use a mixture of office based and remote working in future.

Aviva: 17,000 office workers

Vast majority will remain working from home ‘for the time being’. About 500 have returned to offices. The insurance giant has said it will start testing out how to combine home and office working when some of its staff begin returning to offices in September.

Admiral: 7,500 office staff

Only 15 per cent of staff have returned to its offices in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport. Company has said it wants to combine ‘flexible workspaces with regular remote working options’ for staff in future.

Legal & General: 6,400 UK staff

Under lockdown, 96 per cent of staff were working from home. Only 1,200 are now back in the office. Company has said it is taking a ‘measured, step-by-step’ approach. It said it intends 80 per cent of staff to spend ‘a day or two per fortnight’ in the office in future.

Microsoft: 3,000 UK office workers

Staff not be required to return to the office until at least November. A spokesman said: ‘We have a hybrid workplace strategy in place as worksites slowly start to open.’ 

National Grid: 4,000 office-based staff

No plans to return until September at the earliest. A spokesman said: ‘We expect a return to the office to be a gradual process.’

Airbus: 3,000 office-based workers in Bristol

Only 20 per cent of office staff had returned in July. Phased return planned this month.

Linklaters: 2,200 lawyers globally

Linklaters will be operating a flexible working scheme where lawyers can spend 20 to 50 per cent of their time working remotely.

Footfall in town and city centre streets has stagnated in recent weeks, while out-of town retail parks and urban shopping centres are slowly moving back towards their original footfall, the Office for National Statistics said.

The ONS also found 13 per cent of workers are still on paid furlough, with almost one in four (39 per cent) of companies topping up their wages. The ONS measured footfall compared with the same day of the week in 2019.

Also today, one of Britain’s most senior business leaders said Mr Johnson must ‘do more’ to get office workers back to their desks – or risk the country’s commercial centres becoming permanent ‘ghost towns’.

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn has warned the Prime Minister that he must step up efforts to encourage office staff back to work in order to avoid economic devastation in town centres and business districts.

Dame Carolyn, director-general of the CBI, which speaks on behalf of almost 200,000 businesses, says that getting people back into offices and workplaces should be ‘as important’ as the return to school.

Writing in the Daily Mail, she says: ‘The UK’s offices are vital drivers of our economy. They support thousands of local firms, from drycleaners to sandwich bars. They help train and develop young people.

‘And they foster better work and productivity for many kinds of business. The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. 

‘Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade. This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities.’

Her intervention will pile pressure on the PM to match his rhetoric on the need to return to school with similar words – and action – about getting people back to the workplace.

It comes amid mounting concern from Tory MPs about the state of the economy, and complaints of a ‘lack of grip’ at the top of government following a string of embarrassing U-turns.

Dame Carolyn today acknowledges that working from home helped keep many firms afloat during the lockdown and will remain ‘an option’ for many. But she warns there are ‘serious downsides too’.

In a direct appeal to Mr Johnson, she says the PM and government need to ‘do more to build confidence around getting people back into offices and workplaces’, including ‘effective test and trace’ systems and a campaign to encourage commuters back on to public transport.

She goes on: ‘It’s time for the UK to bring its workplaces back to life or we will look back with regret at the jobs lost, training missed and communities harmed. We ask the government to work with business to build confidence in returning to offices, starting now.’

Dame Carolyn’s intervention comes amid growing alarm at the economic impact of the working from home culture, and the reluctance of many firms and Whitehall civil servants to get back to the workplace.

An audit of almost 30 major employers conducted by the Mail reveals that most have only a small percentage of staff back in the office – and many are telling people they will not be back at their desks until January at the earliest.

Firms opting to keep most staff working from home for the rest of the year include NatWest, which employs almost 50,000; BT, which has 40,000 staff at home; KPMG, which has only 10 per cent of its 16,000 staff in the office; Vodafone, whose 7,850 staff are almost all at home; and Microsoft, which will not start returning its 3,000 UK staff to their desks until at least November.

A separate survey by the BBC yesterday found that 50 of the UK’s biggest employers have no plans to return all staff to the office full time.

Last month, the government dropped the formal advice that people should work from home if possible. At the time, the Prime Minister said people should ‘start to go back to work now if you can’.

The PM also ordered government departments to draw up detailed plans for getting more civil servants back to Whitehall.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill revealed that 95 per cent of civil servants worked from home during the lockdown.

But, despite the PM’s orders, the return to work in Whitehall appears to have been a trickle, rather than a flood.

Ministers are in talks about the introduction of workplace testing for coronavirus in order to give staff more confidence to return to their desks. 

But talks are still at an early stage. And there has been no effort to encourage commuters back on to public transport.

Mr Johnson is said to be privately ‘frustrated’ by the slow pace at which civil servants are returning to work after months at home. 

The PM ordered officials to draw up plans for a return to work in July, but No 10 was yesterday unable to say how many officials are now back at their desks.

A Whitehall source said: ‘Getting people back to work is something the PM feels strongly about. It is slowly happening in Whitehall but not at the pace we would want.’ 

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of the New West End Company said shops in central London could not survive unless office workers returned.

He said traders in London’s West End still had only half the normal number of customers.

‘We are encouraging a very strong instruction from the Prime Minister and the current mayor of London to encourage Londoners back to the office and work that’s the only way we are going to survive this year for the retail and hospitality in the West End.,’ he said.

Andy Street, Tory mayor of the West Midlands, said Birmingham’s public transport system was still only carrying 20 per cent of normal pre-Covid passengers.

He said this could rise to 50 per cent in the coming months, but added: ‘This is undeniably a very difficult situation for businesses that thrive on the back of the big office occupiers being there. 

‘What we are trying to do is steadily build confidence that it is safe to return to the city centre.’

Tory MP Nickie Aiken, whose Cities of London and Westminster constituency has been badly hit by the lack of office workers, urged senior managers to ‘show leadership’ by getting back to the office themselves next month to lead a wider return to work.

She said: ‘It is not just the big brands that are feeling the pain without workers popping out to eat or shop in their lunch hours or after work. The independent shops, cafes, restaurants and bars are also hurting. 

‘The list is endless and without offices returning these small businesses are likely to shut up shop for good.’

Mrs Aiken also rounded on London Mayor Sadiq Khan for failing to make clear to commuters that it is now safe to use public transport again.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith urged the PM to ‘get a grip’ of the situation and take action to get people back to work.

‘Otherwise we are going to face an even worse economic catastrophe than we already are,’ he said.

Sir Iain said the government should ‘lead by example’ by insisting that civil servants return to work in Whitehall.

But Dave Penman, head of the First Division Association of senior civil servants, yesterday predicted that more than two-thirds of officials could still be working from home by the end of the year, leaving offices deserted and local businesses without customers.

‘In most departments the numbers are steadily going up but it’s not going to be huge numbers, it’s not going to be a majority (by the end of the year). We’ll probably get to 30 or 40 per cent over time.’

DAME CAROLYN FAIRBAIRN: Ghost town Britain HAS to get back to work and Boris Johnson must lead the way

CBI director-general Dame Carolyn Fairbairn

Decisions taken over the next few weeks will shape our economy for a decade. 

Getting schools back is an essential component. But as important will be building the right environment to get people back into offices and workplaces.

The UK’s offices are vital drivers of our economy. They support thousands of local firms, from drycleaners to sandwich bars. They help train and develop young people. And they foster better work and productivity for many kinds of business.

The costs of office closure are becoming clearer by the day. Some of our busiest city centres resemble ghost towns, missing the usual bustle of passing trade. This comes at a high price for local businesses, jobs and communities.

Remote working has been a resounding success for many firms and employees, and none of these benefits should be lost. Many people have never worked harder, keeping businesses afloat from their desks and kitchen tables. 

Flexible working is here to stay and needs to remain an option for many. But there are serious downsides too. 

For young people, learning face-to-face in the workplace is an unbeatable way to build skills and confidence.  We must not deprive the next generation of this opportunity. 

Not everyone has the space to work effectively at home – an ironing board in the bedroom does not make a great workspace. And the mental health challenges triggered by isolation are all too real for many.

There is also the question of fairness. Many employees, from barbers to brewers, have no option to work from home. 

We don’t want to see a new divide in our society – between those who can and can’t work from the safety and comfort of their homes.

For all these reasons we need more people to feel it is safe and possible to go back into their places of work. 

This is why we are today calling on the Prime Minister and his Government to do more to build confidence around getting people back into offices and workplaces.

Getting schools open safely is a vital first step to enable parents to go back to work, but they must stay open wherever possible. 

This means effective test and trace, and a focus on resilience. We need government, nationally and locally, to do much more to build confidence in public transport.

They need to shout louder about safety measures in place, enforce the wearing of face masks on tubes, buses and trains, and support the introduction of flexible season tickets so people can return gradually without financial penalty.

And we urgently need mass widespread testing – including in the workplace – to help people feel confident and safe. 

We welcome the Health Secretary’s recent commitment to a mass testing strategy for 2021.

More flexible working is indisputably a good thing for our economy and quality of life, but we must have a balance. 

It’s time for the UK to bring its workplaces back to life, or we will look back with regret at the jobs lost, training missed, and communities harmed.

We ask the Government to work with business to build confidence in returning to offices, starting now.

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