East Riding councillors speak of high street concerns and unemployment following Covid-19

Local councillors have spoken about their concerns over employment and high streets after hearing the county will have to recover from coronavirus following the largest economic drop on record.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 11th December 2020, 2:30 pm
Cllr Jane Evison said some of the £659,000 left in the council’s Love Your High Street fund could be used to help those companies and others in rural areas.
Cllr Jane Evison said some of the £659,000 left in the council’s Love Your High Street fund could be used to help those companies and others in rural areas.

The East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Environment and Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee heard the county’s unemployment benefits claimant count stood at 4.4% at the end of August.

Council Economic Regeneration lead Alan Menzies told the committee the figures, the latest from the ONS, showed unemployment was 86.7% higher than March’s pre-lockdown levels.

But committee member Cllr Paul Lissiter said he feared actual unemployment levels could be higher given the figures only measured those claiming benefits.

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He added the collapse of department store Debenhams and Topshop owner Arcadia risked further damage to East Riding high streets.

Cllr Jane Evison said some of the £659,000 left in the council’s Love Your High Street fund could be used to help those companies and others in rural areas.

Mr Menzies said it would be “sensible” to look at expanding the scheme once officers have worked through 108 outstanding bids.

Cllr Richard Meredith said he was concerned government funded coronavirus business grants were not reaching smaller businesses including those without rateable property.

The committee heard although the amount of East Riding workers on furlough fell from 45,000 to 12,600 from July to August, numbers were forecast to have risen again last month.

The officer said unemployment figures were below regional and national averages.

He added “very significant” investment continued to flow into the county, including Siemens starting work on its £200m train plant which is forecast to create 750 direct and 1,200 indirect jobs.

But Mr Menzies said that came as the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) predicted a drop of 11% in the national economy in 2020, the largest on record. The officer said: “There’s some potential for the local economy to recover, especially through tourism and hospitality if staycations continue, but wages are relatively low in those sectors.”

Cllr Lissiter said pay cuts of 20% taken by furloughed workers could have a greater impact on the East Riding economy as they spend less in local businesses.

He added that could then impact on council tax earnings as the authority has forecast a 1 per cent drop in receipts in the coming payment period.

Cllr Lissiter said: “There might be circumstances where people have been on furlough and are now going back to work but are still earning 80 per cent of their salary.

“There also might be people who’ve lost jobs but haven’t signed on for benefits.

“That impacts on their spending power and the economy as a whole.”