Task Force adopts new coronavirus recovery framework for impacted towns and cities

Published 17 April 2020
Last updated 17 April 2020

The High Streets Task Force has adopted a 4-stage framework which helps place leaders and communities to take action and have the best chance of recovery.

‘Unprecedented’ is the defining word for the national impact of coronavirus. Alongside huge changes to our work, personal and family lives, the virus is also changing the places where we live, including our town and city centres, and our high streets.

The High Streets Task Force was set up in July last year to support local authorities, Business Improvement Districts, and other business and community groups to transform their high streets. Now, new data suggests that this focus must change as we start to see its impact on consumer behaviour, consumer confidence and the challenges faced by many businesses in order to survive.

Examining data on coronavirus impact

As part of its role to support England’s High Streets through the crisis, the Task Force has convened a group of data providers and experts to understand the changes that coronavirus and lockdown will bring to town and city centres.

Chaired by the Royal Town Planning Institute, members of the Professional, Research and Data Group have been releasing and reviewing data that makes for uncomfortable reading for place leaders and others concerned about our high streets and town centres.

The Office of Budgetary Responsibility this week released its revised economic forecast, using data from the Office for National Statistics, part of the Task Force’s new data group. The forecast predicted a 13% fall in UK GDP that ‘comfortably exceed(s) any of the annual falls around the end of each world war or in the financial crisis’.

This and other recent forecasts assume that economic activity will return to its pre-virus levels by the last quarter of this year. However, unlike other recent economic crashes or recessions, our high streets are not just quieter, they are deserted. According to Springboard, who are also part of the Professional Research and Data Group, footfall is down 80% compared to last year, as non-essential businesses remain closed - we can’t be certain about how and when the businesses that make up our high streets will return.

The Office of National Statistics surveyed businesses in the lead up to the current lockdown measures (9-22 March) and found that 55% expected negative impacts to turnover, with a similar proportion (59.9%) not confident or unsure about their future. The impact is also disproportionate by business sector and activity. Over 90% of those providing accommodation and food services, and those in arts, entertainment and recreation expected turnover lower than normal, and accommodation and food also seeing the biggest short-term impact to employment with 51.5% having made short-term cuts to their workforce.

The challenge for those coordinating the high street recovery will be future consumer confidence and behaviour. PwC, also members of the new Task Force data group, run a quarterly Consumer Sentiment Index that shows the scale of that challenge; ‘UK consumer sentiment fell by 29 points between December 2019 and March 2020 - the worst quarterly fall since our survey began in 2008.’ While sentiment is still higher than during the global financial crisis of 2008, again the impact to specific activities varies widely and threatens high streets. The two largest falls in consumer sentiment since coronavirus emerged have been in the activities of ‘going out’ (-59) and ‘eating out’ (-58), with shopping for clothes and non-essentials also down (-33). In addition, consumer sentiment as a whole varies widely by region, with Wales (-32) and the East of England (-40) hardest hit, and London (-14) relatively less so.

Professor Cathy Parker, the Research Lead for the High Streets Task Force, responsible for compiling this review of impact commented “A clear picture is forming of the threat to our high streets from COVID-19 and as the weeks go on this threat will become even greater. We are staying home to stay safe and during this time we must also start to plan for recovery. “

High Streets Recovery Framework

To help high streets through the crisis, the Institute of Place Management, lead Partners of the High Streets Task Force, has developed a High Streets Recovery Framework.

The Framework is designed to help place leaders take the most effective action now, in the immediate crisis, and to build the capacity for recovery and longer-term transformation.

The Framework sets out a series of systematic preparedness, response and recovery measures, across four stages: Crisis, Pre-Recovery, Recovery, and Transformation. Drawing on health emergency and disaster management, is an important approach for place leaders to adopt.

Reflecting the vital role of local authorities and place partnerships in delivering support to those who need it, the Framework focuses on coordination, reassurance and data collection in the first ‘Crisis’ stage. Organisations must then prepare for recovery by building the skills, networks, knowledge, and data, that will be the basis for strategies to attract people back to the high street. 

The High Streets Task Force COVID-19 Recovery Framework

High Streets Task Force support for recovery

The High Streets Task Force has already started delivering support for the coronavirus recovery effort and aligning its work to the High Streets Recovery Framework.

Support and action for place leaders

The High Streets Task Force will now change its immediate support for towns and cities, to help place leaders consider and move through the stages of recovery, supported by the best evidence, tools and training.

Much action has been taken in towns and cities already, with councils, businesses, and other place partnerships like Business Improvement Districts completely realigning their operations to help the vulnerable and provide vital support. As the crisis continues, there is a need to reflect on what’s needed next, and how organisations can consolidate their work so far and best prepare for the next ‘pre-recovery’ stage.

The Task Force will focus on supporting place leaders to understand, embed and deliver this framework for recovery within their local organisations and initiatives. This activity will include:

  • New online resources, launched in the coming days, to support place leaders in each stage of the recovery. Guidance will include topics such as leadership, resilience, communication and co-ordination, and later, to address our return to high streets, place branding and marketing.

  • Weekly support emails, to lead people and organisations through the high street recovery process, prompting consideration of key issues at the right time and providing reassurance. (You can register to receive these emails now)

  • Sharing of these resources and new insight and intelligence online via social media and directly through our established Sector Leaders Group and Professional Data and Research Groups, to help the Task Force reach as wide an audience as possible.


Register now for support

If you would like to hear more about the High Streets Task Force and its work to support the coronavirus recovery, please register your interest via our contact page.