Press Release

Suburban spending boosted while Central London flags says new report

Retail sales are close to or above normal levels in some outer London suburbs, but are at rock bottom in central London, according to a new report. Overall, the economic impact of lockdown has been just as severe in London as in the rest of the countryunemployment-related benefit claimants have soaredand there’s been a sharp slump in advertised job vacancies. 

  • Some London suburbs are seeing a boost as Londoners spend more time and money in local shops, while retail sales in central London remains suppressed; 
  • Driving and cycling rates in the city are back to normal but public transport use, particularly into central London is still very low; 
  • Job vacancies are edging back up in London but are still 56 per cent of their normal level. 

The reportthe second in a series by Centre for London in association with the Policy Institute and the Centre for Urban Science and Progress at King’s College Londonshows how London’s economy is faring as the capital enters the fifth month since the coronavirus crisis began.

The analysis found that: 

Many Londoners are staying local, with some evidence of a ‘suburban recovery’ 

Spending patterns have shifted from central London towards other town centres and outer zones.

In smaller town centres such as Southall and East Ham, grocery purchases held up throughout the pandemic, while apparel purchases and eating out had already returned to or surpassed their pre-crisis level by July. By mid-July, restaurant transactions were 17 per cent above their January level in Southall, apparel purchases up 10 per cent in East Ham.

In central London, spending fell steeply across all categories during the first wave of the pandemic, and by mid-July, transaction volumes were still down by 60 per cent compared to January for grocery and apparel shops, and down 80 per cent for restaurants. 

In larger town centres, such as Stratford, Ealing, Bromley and Orpington, the picture is more mixed – with transaction volumes running at about a third lower in July than in January 2020.  

Driving and cycling rates back to normal but public transport use still very low 

Public transport use in London has been particularly slow to recover, compared to most other global cities, with travel across the capital continuing to be severely affected. Trips to London’s workplaces in the first week of August remained 51 per cent below average, with tube trips remaining the most depressed, at 70 per cent below normal.  

Road traffic levels have resumed, with the number of private cars on the city’s roads now only five per cent below precrisis levels. 

London is experiencing a cycling boom. Despite remote working, cycle use has already surged above pre-crisis levels, and even tripled on some weekends.  

The economic impact of lockdown has been as severe in London as the rest of the country 

London’s labour market has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. There were 2.5 times more unemployment-related benefit claimants in London as of JuneThis compares to 2.1 for the UK as a whole. 

At the end of July, advertised job vacancies in London started to recover, but remained at less than half of 2019 levels (a fall of 56 per cent compared to July 2019), as measured by postings on job search site IndeedInitially less affected than the rest of the country, London has converged with the UK average on this indicator. 

Richard Brown, Deputy Director, Centre for London said: 

Lockdown meant more local spending, as Londoners stayed home and shopped locally. But spending in central London has been slow to recover, even as restrictions have been relaxed. Without commuters, foreign tourists and UK visitors, London’s global centre is struggling, as are many of the capital’s lowest paid workers 

We don’t yet know how far changes in commuting patterns and tourism are temporary, and how far they represent a long-term reset. In any case it is likely that London’s economy and London’s workers will need help for months to come, so that they are ready to help the UK thrive in a fast-changing world.  

Mark Kleinman, Professor of Public Policy at the Policy Institute, Kings College London said: 

“The impact of the pandemic has been to accelerate some social and economic changes – such as remote working and online retail – that were already underway. We are now seeing some evidence of additional impacts, particularly on the balance of economic activity between the centre and other parts of the city, that are in part a consequence of these accelerated changes.  

London’s economy continues to work well below its capacity. As the Job Retention Scheme is wound down over the next few months, it is important that government policy supports London’s recovery and future economic growth which is vital for the UK economy as a whole as well as for Londoners.” 

Notes to Editors  

About Centre for London 

Centre for London is the capital’s dedicated think tank. Politically independent and a registered charity, the Centre publishes research, holds events, convenes and influences to create a better city.  

About the Policy Institute  

The Policy Institute at King’s College London works to solve society’s challenges with evidence and expertise. It combines the rigour of academia with the agility of a consultancy and the connectedness of a think tank. 

About the Centre for Urban Science and Progress 

The Centre for Urban Science and Progress London (CUSP London), a joint initiative of King’s College London and the University of Warwick brings together researchers, businesses, local authorities and government agencies to apply urban science to improving citizen’s lives, including their health and wellbeing. 

Data Sources 

  • Insights on retail sales: Mastercard Geographic Insights
  • London Underground Journeys / Cycle Use: Transport for London 
  • Road Traffic: Transport for London. Weekday ANPR captures, pan-London 24 hours, by mode. Percentage change from pre-COVID-19 baseline (02/03-06/03), weekdays 
  • Workplace Trips: Google COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports 
  • Job Vacancies: Indeed 
  • Unemployment-related Benefit Claimants: Alternative Claimant Count statistics, January 2013 to May 2020 

This press release was amended on 20 August 2020 to refer to ‘retail sales’ or ‘transaction volumes’ instead of ‘spending’, and to cite Mastercard Geographic Insights