There are fears that up to 17,500 jobs could be lost in York as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – with more than half of those roles cut in tourism and retail.
A Festival of Ideas event heard that the city could see unemployment rise to 18 per cent, according to a study of Office for Budget Responsibility data by York and North Yorkshire LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership).
Greg Dyke, chair of Make It York, chaired the event titled Roadmap to Recovery: York in a post-Covid world. He said:
The most frightening statistics I have seen come from the LEP.
They have produced a model for our region that suggests that York itself could lose 17,500 jobs, of which more than half are in tourism or retail.
North Yorkshire could lose a total of 69,000 jobs and see a 18.9 per cent unemployment rate.
These figures are, of course, based on a myriad of assumptions, however if they turn out to be true they are pretty depressing.
But he said he suspects this is the LEP’s “worst case scenario”.
City faces major challenge
City of York Council leader Keith Aspden told the event – which was held on Zoom – that York has faced employment challenges before including the closure of confectionery giant Terry’s factory.
He said the city recovered by using its educational institutions to retrain the workforce.
Cllr Aspden added: “It’s important to repeat that these are predictions.
“There’s no doubt that the [York Central] project of that significance will be important for our recovery.
“I don’t think that a short term plan is enough. We are working on a longer term city recovery plan – this is going to look at the bigger questions.”
York had the lowest rate of people claiming unemployment benefits of any city in the UK – 1.3 per cent – according to figures from November 2019.
York Central MP Rachael Maskell said she has asked the council to do a full risk assessment: “Job losses mean that more and more families across the city will struggle. We need to ensure that there is a strong safety net in place to support all families at this time.
“We simply do not know the scale of economic loss, however the lack of diversity in the local economy and predicating jobs in the hospitality, retail and tourism industry has exposed York to significant risk.”
She said the city needs “significant investment in developing better, more secure jobs” in different sectors – and that the York Central development could help with this.
Hit hard economically
James Farrar, chief operating officer of the LEP, emphasized that the figures are based on multiple sources and are a possible outcome rather than a prediction.
“That said, we know that our region has been hit hard economically by the pandemic and resulting restrictions,” he said.
“The LEP and all local authorities and wider partnership organisations are working together and are committed to developing both a regional and local recovery plans that put our people and businesses first.
“As a region we have significant opportunities in clean and green technologies, and unique strengths in our cultural and heritage assets.
“Working together we can rebuild a thriving and resilient economy, making life better for everyone who lives, works and visits in our region.”
Neil Ferris, City of York Council’s director of economy, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has had an unprecedented effect on businesses across the region, country and worldwide. We have already seen many changes to everyday life which has been reflected in these predications from the LEP.
“However, it is important to repeat that these are predictions and in York, we should be encouraged by the opportunities we have available to us. We have started progressing plans to ensure that we can take advantage of economic opportunities in the coming months and years, with local businesses.
“We are also continuing to progress major developments, including York Central that will see up to 2,500 homes and 112,000 square metres of space for office, leisure and retail uses.”