The Eat Out To Help Out (EOTHO) scheme brought some welcome relief to the hospitality industry last month. The Government hailed it as a success, with official statistics showing that over 64 million meals were claimed for as part of the scheme.
This is good news for the sector, at least in the short term. However, when you dig beneath the surface the effect that it has had varies across the country, with some town and city centres seeing large bounces in footfall on EOTHO nights and others seeing almost no change.
Smaller cities and seaside towns were the biggest winners from EOTHO: Blackpool, Southend, Swansea, Bournemouth and Peterborough all saw increases in footfall of more than 20 percentage points on EOTHO nights, compared to late July.
Meanwhile, visitor footfall remained sluggish in the centres of our largest cities: The EOTHO bounce in central London was just four percentage points. So, while the scheme succeeded in giving hospitality businesses a short-term lifeline, this hasn’t extended to our big city centres.
Big cities continue to struggle because office workers are still working from home. Despite the Government’s calls for people to return to the office, the latest data from our High Streets Recovery Tracker shows no movement at all in workers returning to city centres since late June.
We should not assume this will increase over autumn; with COVID-19 cases rising and social distancing rules tightening, offices may lie empty for some time yet. And while offices lie empty so do city centre pubs, restaurants and shops who cater to office workers.
So, unless we see a big increase in people returning to the office, the chancellor must set out how he will support the people working in city centre retail and hospitality who could soon find themselves out of a job by Christmas.
Andrew Carter is chief executive of Centre for Cities