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21/02/2019

Lack of skilled workers contributes to high street woes

Words: Laura Edgar
Cambridge / iStock-875061760

The main challenges for poorly performing high streets is the lack of skilled workers and the demand to shift away from retail towards high-knowledge and leisure services.

This theory goes against the popular belief that the internet is causing the high street’s health problems.

City Centres: Past, Present and Future suggests that the focus on the struggles of certain high streets ignores the success of well-performing city centres.

The report authors, think tank Centre for Cities in partnership with George Capital, said this “misdiagnoses the core problem: insufficient footfall in city centres due to a lack of jobs”. Instead, the government should treat them as strategic infrastructure projects, similar to transport.

City centres that are successful feature fewer shops but support “knowledge-based” office jobs (marketing and finance), which creates a consumer market for high street leisure activities, such as restaurants and bars to “thrive”, says the report.

Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool are cited as growing their city centre workforces well in the past 20 years, which has laid the foundations for strong city centre economies.


Report stats:

  • Newport (24.3 per cent), Bradford (21.2 per cent) and Wigan (20.8 per cent) had the highest high street vacancy rates in 2017/18.
  • Cambridge (6.9 per cent), York (7.0 per cent) and London (7.4 per cent) had the lowest high street vacancy rates in 2017/18.

City Centres: Past, Present and Future includes three key recommendations to address the high street’s challenges.

  • The chancellor should allow city leaders to access to the National Productivity Investment Fund to invest in making city centres more attractive places for businesses and employees.
  • The government should offer all city centres exemptions from commercial-to-residential conversions to protect valuable office space.
  • More investment in skills for cities’ residents is necessary to create the educated workforce that future city centres need to thrive.

Andrew Carter, chief executive at Centre for Cities, said: “This research shows that it is not all doom and gloom on the high street, despite the headlines. However, future city centres are likely to look very different from today. We must remember that a successful high street is the result, not the driver, of a successful city economy and take a more holistic approach to regenerating city centres – including allowing councils to access infrastructure funding as well as money set aside for high street regeneration.

“Instead of trying to replace failed shops with more retail, investors and policymakers should focus their strategies on making struggling city centres attractive places to do business and spend leisure time – not just to shop.”


Earlier this week (18 February), The Planner reported that fears about the health of the high street have been “exaggerated”. A report by Turley said that “careful understanding” of places is needed so tailored solutions can be provided to ensure that regeneration is successful. Above everything, local people should be at the heart of town and city centre futures, with opportunities for engagement built in from the start.


Image credit | iStock (large) and Shutterstock (small square)

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