More than 60,000 Hertfordshire jobs could be lost in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic – leaving the county with a ‘jobs problem’ for the first time in a generation.
Until the start of the pandemic, jobs in the county had been relatively easy to find, with unemployment levels running at around two per cent.
But by May, it has been reported, unemployment levels had increased to five per cent.
And now members of the county council’s growth, infrastructure, planning and the economy cabinet panel have heard that by the end of the year Hertfordshire jobs losses could top 60,000.
Speaking to a meeting of the cabinet panel on Wednesday (September 9) Neil Hayes, from the Hertfordshire LEP, said initial estimates were that job losses could top 100,000.
But he said that estimate had now been revised downwards – and that more would be known after the ‘coronavirus job retention scheme’ (known as furlough) ended in October.
At the meeting, he reported to councillors that as of July 163,000 employees in Hertfordshire were ‘furloughed’ – equivalent to 28 per cent of the overall workforce.
He also reported that 52,600 claims had been made under the ‘self-employment income support scheme’ – that’s a take-up rate of 76 per cent.
And, he said, the number of claimants in the county – that’s the number of people claiming unemployment related benefits – had reached 38,090 in July. That’s three times higher than the 12,710 making claims 12 months earlier (July 2019).
He told the meeting that this recession was expected to be ‘significant in terms of jobs’ in the county.
‘Short term action is needed to help businesses bounce back’
In the past recession, he said, we avoided the huge impact on Hertfordshire jobs felt in other areas, as increasing number of residents commuted into London.
But he said that would be ‘very different’ this time and said there was likely to be ‘a jobs problem’.
Nevertheless, he said the economic fundamentals of Hertfordshire – such as its skilled workforce, connectivity and employment in growth sectors – were still in place and not broken.
And he suggested the county was in a relatively positive position in order to recover.
“So our ability to bounce back should be more pronounced than other parts of the UK,” he said.
“However, we still need to understand what short term action is needed to help businesses bounce back. But also some of these things are going to lead to long term structural changes.”
He said leisure and hospitality were currently impacted but had the opportunity to bounce back.
But he said there were ‘big challenges’ for high streets, suggesting that retail had already been headed for ‘choppy waters’ even before the pandemic.
“There are clearly big challenges for our high streets and town centres,” he said.
“I also think there are big opportunities for towns in Hertfordshire to re-purpose some of those town centres for employment use – for digital remote working, for example.”
In making the point, he pointed to anecdotal evidence that businesses in London were looking for space outside the capital, where staff could ‘collaborate and work in a safe environment’.
According to the data presented to the meeting, the Hertfordshire borough with the highest number of people ‘furloughed’ in July was Dacorum, where the figure was 7200 – equivalent to 30 per cent of the workforce.
The areas with the greatest proportion of residents who had been ‘furloughed’ were Broxbourne and Hertsmere, where the figure was 32 per cent. In Broxbourne that equated to 5100 employees and in Hertsmere 5900.
It was also reported that estimates indicated that around 150,000 residents were now working remotely, rather than going into their usual workplace.
There were 38,090 residents reported to be claiming unemployment related benefits in Hertfordshire in July this year – compared to 12,710 in July 2019.
The number of claimants has more than doubled in every district and borough in the county. It has more than tripled in Dacorum and East Herts – where the claimant count has gone up by 268 per cent.
See original article: Hertfordshire Mercury