Back to top

Core Cities – The Impact of the First Wave of Covid-19

Cllr Judith Blake CBE, Chair of Core Cities UK and Leader of Leeds City Council 

This new report from Centre for Cities, supported by Core Cities UK, sets out the scale of the economic damage done to the UK's larger urban areas by Covid-19.

In normal times, cities like ours attracted a regular flow of office workers from surrounding suburbs, smaller cities and towns. They were vital for our city centre economies and provided the income that kept our public transport networks moving.

 But the rise of working from home due to Covid has left our city centres without vital footfall, threatening the future of thousands of businesses from gyms to sandwich shops.

Our city centres also contain some of our greatest cultural assets, our theatres, cinemas, pubs, nightclubs and concert halls. Covid has shuttered these, depriving our city economies of vital income.

It might be easy to look at this report and see only decline and devastation, but as Centre for Cities point out, there is hope. The economic damage appears to be temporary, footfall levels are expected to recover and the evidence points to pent up consumer demand that will help to create jobs once lockdown ends.

The report states that there is likely to be no long term contraction, as long as Government shares Core Cities UK's ambition and does not plan for limited growth but instead looks at policy measures that make sure our cities can come back stronger and fitter. If they don't then there will be grave consequences for national recovery.

This is not to say that things will ever return to pre March 2020 normality. We must use Covid-19 as an opportunity to re-think the role of our cities.

There are already worrying signs that air pollution is back to pre-crisis levels. We must continue to encourage walking and cycling and persuade people to leave the car behind, an even tougher task in a world where people are likely to continue to shy away from public transport for some time to come.

We must make sure that cities retain a decent level of office accommodation as we may face pressure from developers for changes of use. Cities must remain places where people come to meet, network and do business,

And we must improve skills, equipping our citizens for a job market that is likely to be even tougher in a post Covid recession. While there are signs Government is adopting a more locally led approach to skills, it needs to follow this up and provide more clarity.

As the report makes clear, our cities are a vital economic asset for the nation. It is time to start the job of recovery and renewal so we can realise our potential.