Norwich is set to lose more than 4,000 jobs post-pandemic as 20pc of people continue to work from home instead of offices, a new report has predicted.
KPMG’s Future of Towns and Cities Post Covid report paints the recovery of the city’s high street in a startlingly brutal light.
And the report predicts that 32pc of retail jobs in Norwich will be lost in the wake of the pandemic. In total it is feared 4,175 jobs will go – 3.6pc of the city’s total employment figure.
Part of this is driven by online sales instead of bricks-and-mortar buying, which have grown by more than 50pc in nine months – a curve which was previously thought to take five years to come to fruition.
But the alarm bells could ring in some “creative disruption”, said Don Williams, a retail partner at KPMG.
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“A lot of people were getting bored with the high street anyway. You go to so many towns and city centres and you saw all of the same shops. On top of this, the pandemic sped up the demise of businesses which were already falling behind on investment into their stores, technology and people,” he said.
“In terms of jobs we will see people stay in retail but diversify the roles they are taking on. In Norfolk particular there is a strong logistics industry so we could see more people going into that.
“Or they may go into the raft of new jobs which have been accelerated because of lockdown – the social media managers, the You Tube content managers, and the other areas online which are driving consumer demand,” he said.
Joe Faulkner, who heads up the Norwich office of KPMG said: “When we look at job opportunities in Norfolk we also have to consider the way jobs are being done and will continue to be – which is from home.
“This presents opportunities to counties like Norfolk because we have city centres like Norwich with the likes of the markets and our independents, as well as the north Norfolk coast and the Broads.
“It makes it very attractive for people looking to spend more time in their homes and away from less-densely populated areas.”
Indeed the makeup of cities will also change with fewer commuters travelling to work with 18.5pc of Norwich’s staff continuing to work from home after the pandemic.
And KPMG suggests the empty office space needs to be put to good use.
The report says: “Universities could help these workers acquire new skills and move to sectors with growing demand, such as the green economy, health and technology.
“They are also well placed to support local businesses, by helping them increase productivity with advice on ways to improve working practices and better integrate new technology.
“Norfolk already has a thriving micro-business community and it would make sense to use the space to reflect that. I can see some of these units being turned into co-working spaces and incubators,” added Mr Faulkner.
“A couple of things I could see happening is the introduction of more health and retirement occupants in city centres,” added Mr Williams
“I find it mad that for a car you go to a one-place-does-everything garage but for your physical and mental wellbeing you have to go to a GP, a dentist, a chiropractor, a nutritionist, and the list just goes on.
“They’re scattered all over the place and it would make sense to have more of them in more central locations.
“I also think this pandemic has really highlighted the issues around social isolation and loneliness for older people.
“I think people don’t want to sell their big house in the suburbs and move to the country – they want to be around other people and feel that they’re part of a community.
“I can see a lot of the old retail units for department stores for example, used as residential and retirement living spaces,” he said.
There are some areas Norwich stands out for all the right reasons.
The city has the one of the strongest cultural offerings across the board in the whole country – in the categories of sports facilities, culture and recreation, and restaurants, bars and cafes.
Norwich’s indices read at 1.04, 1.24 and 0.89 respectively – consistently outstripping the likes of comparably sized cities like Reading and Plymouth and some larger cities.
Such strengths drag Norwich to overall having an impact rating of -0.11 – in the lower but not lowest half of the cities and towns analysed.
“You can’t underplay the importance of having a thriving hospitality sector like Norfolk does,” Mr Faulkner said. “There’s a lot of pent up demand and with the diversity and quality of offering you cannot underestimate the value that will have in accelerating the city out of this.”
He was echoed by Joshua Bamfield, director of the Centre for Retail Research in Norwich, who said: “I don’t think it will be more than a couple of years before Norwich gets back to a level of normal – subject to there being no more disruptions.
“This is partly due to the fact that the city isn’t reliant on offices the way Manchester or London are and it’s also in a tourism spot.
“We’ll see a lot of people over the next few years choosing to stay at home which puts the city and its hospitality sector in a strong position.”
— to www.edp24.co.uk