A third of retail jobs in Ipswich under threat after Covid crisis, business report warns

Ipswich town centre

More than a third of retail jobs in Ipswich town centre could be lost because of the Covid crisis, KPMG has warned. - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown

More than a third of retail jobs in Ipswich town centre could be lost permanently as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic - and nearly a fifth of workers are likely to continue working from home for good.

That is the warning in a national survey of town and city centres across the UK by business giant KPMG - but Ipswich is one of the centres considered most vulnerable as a result of the impact of the pandemic and lockdown.

KPMG warns that 34% of retail jobs in the town could be lost - a total of 2,518 positions - as more people have got used to shopping online during the lockdowns and pandemics.

It also says that another 18% of the workforce are likely to continue working from home after all Covid restrictions are lifted - which would have a major effect on the town centre with fewer workers visiting it during their lunch breaks.

The report says that town centre managers across the country must look harder at reducing the dependency on retail. It says that the Covid crisis hasn't caused the problems on the high street - but it has accelerated a process that was already underway.

Paul Martin, head of retail, KPMG said: "Online sales have grown by more than 50% in nine months, accelerating a trend that would have taken five years plus to deliver in normal circumstances.

"For obvious reasons non-essential retail has seen some of the biggest increases, as this was the only route to market over many weeks. It is important to bear in mind though that this growth will slow once stores are opened again and physical shopping is deemed to be safe. We expect that 40-50% of all non-essential retailing will be transacted online going forward, up from around 30% pre-COVID."

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There was also a shift to grocery deliveries during the pandemic. Before the first lockdown 6.5% of groceries were bought online. This has increased to a steady 15% - and risen to as much as 25% of grocery purchases at some times.

Mr Martin said: "As grocery represents 50% of the overall UK retail market and we have we have tens of thousands of grocery stores in the UK grocery stores in the UK this will lead to major implications. Locations will need to be downsized, re-purposed into completely different usages."

David Ellesmere Ipswich Council Leader.

David Ellesmere at the start of the redevelopment of the council's Princes Street site. He said there would have to be big changes on the way in Ipswich town centre. - Credit: Charlotte Bond

Ipswich Council leader David Ellesmere said the report - and Ipswich's position among other towns and cities - did not come as a surprise.

He said: "The last year has turbocharged that. We're not seeing an evolution of the town centre. This is a major change.

"We hope to get financial help for our plans through the Towns Fund which will provide us with a regeneration budget which should allow us to help find new uses for shops that become vacant."

And he emphasised this was a challenge faced by towns and cities across the country: "There's nothing unique about us. Almost everywhere is facing the same challenges."

Ipswich Central chair Terry Baxter.

Ipswich Central chair Terry Baxter pointed out the challenges facing the town were shared by communities across the country. - Credit: Paul Geater

Ipswich Central Chair Terry Baxter added: “This report is a stark reminder of the crisis that is unfolding in every town and city centre in the country.

"But this is not new as Ipswich Central has been warning of the issues for the last two or three years; what Covid-19 has done is accelerate the pace of what was already ongoing.

"The Vision Board meets this Friday and we will be asking our partners to work collaboratively to deliver bold plans for a complete reimagining of the town centre to address the changes that are now so evident and that we need to tackle together.”

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