This week the BCLP Retail Team evaluate the end of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme and discuss a possible Government-sponsored scheme to fund public transportation. We also consider the effect of working from home on high streets, and the introduction of new social distancing measures.

Did ‘Eat Out To Help Out’ really Help Out?

The Government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme ended on 31 August. The scheme, offering 50% discounts on food and soft drinks up to £10 per diner from Monday to Wednesday in August, proved more successful than the Treasury anticipated. Participating restaurants, cafes and pubs saw a significant increase in trade compared to the same time last year. The scheme also increased footfall for retailers as consumers were enticed to leave their homes to participate in the discounts with a notable uptick over the bank holiday weekend.

This scheme, a government-sponsored scheme to subsidise public transport (as detailed below), or local authorities permitting free parking in retail areas are aimed at increasing consumer confidence, and show the benefits of intervention to incentivise a return to the high street, but at what cost to the tax payer?

Will Your First Ride Be Free?

There are rumours that the Government is considering offering free tickets for public transport. Anxiety surrounding the use of public transport is believed to be an impediment to a return to the workplace, shops and restaurants. The scheme, potentially called ‘First Ride Free’, would be similar in structure to the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme. Both offer a short-term subsidy to encourage people to resume normal patterns of behaviour, such as eating in restaurants, or riding the Tube.

Proponents of the scheme hope that it will incentivise people to return to city centres, where they will patronise struggling businesses. The current plan would see the government and businesses jointly funding the scheme. This is one of many potential options being considered to revitalise the city centre.

Can Work From Home Help the High Street?

The news is rife with forecasts on the effects on retailer in city centres if office workers continue their current trend of working from home. Traditionally, areas with a high concentration of office workers with disposable incomes are profitable for retail and leisure providers. A shift in working patterns away from the office (particularly in city centres) has resulted in a decrease in revenue in these areas. In a trend referred to as ‘doughnutting’, high streets and retail areas near the homes of commuters could see an increase in revenue and footfall, away from city centre retailers.

While this may mean a revitalisation for the traditional high street, occupiers in areas close to the traditional office environment now have to contend with the current shift towards remote working. The question remains is this a short or longer-term change in work patterns?

“Rule of Six” - Tightening Restrictions for Social Distancing

After a recent spike in Covid-19 cases (coupled with the return of students to schools and universities), the government will impose new social distancing measures. Previously, groups of up to 30 people could socialise. However, from today, Monday 14th September, groups of no more than six people will now be permitted to socialise. Police will have the ability to disperse and fine larger groups. It is understood that the requirement for restaurants and pubs to take customers’ contact information to help with track and tracing will be formally included in the legislation. While these measures are enacted to protect lives, their knock-on economic effect may cause further strain for already struggling retailers.