Understanding the economic impact of COVID-19 is easy. The pandemic and the subsequent lock down has hammered the UK economy, alongside the rest of the world.
But the impact on local economies, the initial hit, recovery and long-term effects, are all a far more complex picture that will vary from one place to the next.
So far, much of the research has focused on the short-term economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, how the retail, travel and hospitality sectors have been affected by the shutdown and the future shape of our high streets.
Earlier this month, the Social Market Foundation issued a report which looked at the medium-term economic impact of the virus on places and industries.
Unsurprisingly, the report found that more affluent areas – the ones with most to lose – faced the sharpest downturn.
Places like Camden and the City of London (see Box 1) are all likely to be hard hit in the shorter-term – but more affluent areas were also in a better position to recover.
When it came to the medium and longer-term impacts, the places with higher unemployment and low economic outturn before the crisis will be the ones which find it hardest to recover. These are, the report warns, ‘the places with the most to fear from the downturn’.
Chief executive of Redbridge LBC, Andy Donald, has been vocal about the situation his council finds itself in. His is one of the areas that is likely to be hit with the double whammy of high impact and low resilience.
‘We have to understand there is a real complexity to this which isn’t quite as simple as “there will be some places hit hard and others that will be less hit”. There will be differences within cities,’ he says.
‘COVID-19 has exacerbated inequality in terms of health but also in terms of economic recovery.’
He suggests the SMF report shows Redbridge has ‘some of the characteristics of a northern city’ in a London borough.
More than a decade on from the last recession, when the council was last geared up to help the local economy and residents through the worst of the downturn, he is now looking at how to reshape the council again to deal with the economic resilience, looking at helping people who have lost their income and got into debt.
He is working with health colleagues and with employment and skills partners. ‘We are thinking about what funding mechanisms need to be put in place now.’
It’s not all downsides. Mr Donald says there is a real opportunity to co-work locally and to build up the area as people travel less, but there is going to have to be an investment to help local authorities rebuild their places.
‘It’s not a case of investing in London and not the core cities, or the core cities and not London. It needs to be investment in both,’ he says.
Box 1:Top highest impact areas
Camden and City of London
Kingston and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham
Hounslow and Richmond upon Thames
Box 2: Top severely impacted areas with the highest pre-crisis unemployment
Kingston upon Hull
Redbridge and Waltham Forest
You can view Levelling down: The medium-term local economic impact of coronavirus here