Only 15% of Londoners returned to the office in July

Daily footfall traffic far below pre-COVID levels as people still keen to work remotely

A crossing in a busy city

Only 15% of workers in central London have returned to the office, according to new figures from the Centre for Cities think tank. 

The figures for the last week of July show that London had the lowest number of workers returning to the office out of all the towns and cities in the UK. 

The research is based on footfall traffic in the week after 'Freedom Day' (19 July) when the government lifted all remaining COVID restrictions. It doesn't specifically state numbers for those returning to offices, but it suggests a rise or fall based on daytime footfall to shops and restaurants in city centres. 

Across the UK, less than one in five (18%) people have returned to their place of work, with day time footfall traffic falling 1% in the last week of July, compared to stats compiled before Freedom Day. People in Brighton were the most likely to have returned, according to the report, but worker footfall there was at 49% of pre-COVID levels and still far from normal.

Just two places have recovered to their pre-pandemic levels of footfall: Blackpool and Bournemouth. However, their popularity with tourists means that visitor numbers are likely to fall once summer ends and offers no indication of appetite to return to the office.  

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"It's a mixed picture as the country takes its next steps back to normality - both for different types of businesses, and for different places," said Paul Swinney, Centre for Cities director of policy.

"People's eagerness, particularly in cities in the North and Midlands, to go out and socialise has been a lifeline for many businesses in the night-time economy. But a reluctance to head back to the office in our largest and most economically important cities means that people in the so-called 'sandwich economy' that caters to city centre office workers are facing an uncertain future as we get ever closer to the end of the furlough scheme in September."

The low numbers for London could be perceived as a blow to chancellor Rishi Sunak and his plans to boost the economy by encouraging more people back into the workplace. Sunak recently suggested that platforms like Microsoft Teams and Zoom were no help to people at the start of their careers

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