The government’s Eat Out to Help Out meal subsidies scheme is boosting seaside towns like Bournemouth and Southend, helping coastal towns to overtake big cities such as London and Manchester when it comes to the economic recovery from COVID-19.
Analysis by think tank the Centre for Cities found that seaside towns like Bournemouth, Southend, Blackpool, and Brighton have all seen large increases in dining out on Monday to Wednesday so far in August. The increase is not offsetting activity later in the week, meaning overall spending appears to be rising.
The Centre for Cities analysed footfall and mobile phone data, measuring visits to the high street in the evenings.
Some of the smallest increases were in larger cities such as Manchester, Sheffield, and London. London saw an increase of just 3% in early August, compared to a 23% jump in Bournemouth. The average increase across the UK was 8%.
The pattern mirrors broader trends. The Centre for Cities analysis shows that Bournemouth is recovering at a faster pace than the UK’s capital, while other seaside towns are also outpacing big towns and cities.
“What we’re seeing is that small and medium city centres are seeing quite a strong recovery in terms of footfall and in spend, whereas large city centres and central London have not seen that recovery,” Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities, told Yahoo Finance UK.
Swinney said seaside towns were enjoying a particular boost thanks to the rise in staycations.
“We’ve had great weather recently and there’s obviously a nervousness about going abroad as well which means they’ve actually been able to pull more people in, from actually quite a broad distance,” he said.
Bournemouth council were forced to declare a “major incident” in June after thousands of Brits flocked to its beaches to enjoy the warm weather.
“The pictures we see of Bournemouth beach — there’s a lot of people there and they are travelling quite a distance because they understandably want to be by the seaside when the sun is shining,” Swinney said.
Swinney added that the differing fortunes of High Streets across the UK meant it was easier for some smaller towns to recover to pre-COVID levels.
“A lot of smaller and medium sized city centres were the ones that had struggling High Streets going into the crisis,” he said.
“It’s great to recover back to where you were but if where you were isn’t a great place to be in, clearly there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Meanwhile, big city centres are struggling due to a lack of office workers. Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to return to work in mid-July but the Centre for Cities’ analysis suggests the call has made little difference.
“There’s about a quarter of the people in London that there were pre-lockdown,” Swinney said.
“What was really a boon before COVID is actually what’s hamstringing them now. Before, they were pulling in all these workers from very wide areas, huge catchment areas, and now those workers aren’t travelling in.”
Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, called on the government to put in place support for jobs in cities where businesses are struggling.
“Shops, restaurants and pubs face an uncertain future while office workers remain at home,” Carter said in a statement.
“So, in the absence of a big increase in people returning to the office, the Government must set out how it will support the people working in city centre retail and hospitality who could well find themselves out of a job by Christmas.”