Re-opening the High Street is just the beginning of the changes needed…
Re-opening the High Street guidance was issued by the UK government recently and gives generalised advice for local authorities and others involved with town centre management. But what does this mean for retailers on the high street over the next few weeks. Also how will this affect the high street over the next 12-18 months, how can we ensure that towns and cities build back better. How to re-open the High Street is being discussed across Zoom and Team calls throughout England and Wales. In this latest post we’re going to look at some of the massive issues involved in re-opening the High Street.
What does it mean- the personal cost
There is a lot of focus on shops and the hospitality sector – and rightly so. But town Centres are quite an eclectic place. Different sectors of the High Street have had a different experience of COVID19. For instance tech and some professional services firms have had a positive experience where staff are able to work from home relatively easily – at least for those who have a separate room with a view. But if you are juggling Zoom calls from your bedroom and perhaps trying to homeschool children, the experience is different. On the other hand, some people will find their personal productivity has increased as they juggle managing a shop with being a part-time primary school teacher!
What does it mean now that expectations have changed?
There has been a change since the first days of Lockdown when adherence to government pronouncements was unquestioned. Public sentiment is less likely to follow instructions telling people to do things. Instead it is necessary to appeal to judgement. Asking the public to use their instinct is flawed. The instincts of one person can be completely at odds to another person. But we can tap into the remnants of community spirit and sense of purpose that exist.
Expectations for the 15th June and re-opening the high street are high. For local authorities, shopping centres, transport operators and shops there is the difficulty of anticipating capacity. How many people will be coming to the High Street and what measures can we take to ensure maximum flexibility? Managing expectations and the good will that is still in existence, will be as important as the science of prediction.
Re-opening the high street: Building back better
There are rapid developments in vaccines and treatments for COVID19. But, however rapid the vaccine, it is unlikely to be available for several months. Therefore retailers, shops and offices have to make judgements and take action now. We know from the Brexit experience, how uncertainty can affect business investment and confidence.
Before COVID19 hit the economy, retailers were regaining confidence and business investment decisions were being made. Moving from on from COVID19 safe cities, how are places building back better? We are already seeing changes being put in place in city centres. Diversions are being set out in preparation for how hospitality and leisure will be opening up. Once these trials in “cafe culture” are over – will there be long lasting changes to town centre dining and pedestrian areas?
Reopening the high street: Clean growth and renewable energy
How can the high street be opened up in a sustainable way? Here is an opportunity to deploy some of the clean tech and renewal energy projects. For example, green tech can reduce retailer fixed costs, like energy costs. As shops open up it is crucial that people feel confident in their high street. Getting people to spend again on the high street is what will generate demand and that in turn feeds into the economy. The difference now is we want to get the economy working in a sustainable and inclusive way.
Reopening the high street: Changes in behaviour
The behaviourial response – whether people feel able to use public mass transport is a key enabler for getting back to work. It is really important that the focus in the recovery will be about protecting jobs and creating new jobs to create demand so that people start spending again. The good news is that the changes to the economy to make it sustainable is a growth market. It is up to BIDS and local authorities to make the business case to demonstrate how transforming the city centre can also create new jobs.
Finally, a big, sharp recession with a contraction of 12% on the quarter is highly likely, followed by a gradual return to growth. The question that many businesses should be asking is what are the new skills that are needed to make sure they can fully exploit anticipated growth in the months to come.