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Three indicators we think local policy-makers should look at during the Covid-19 recovery

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Across the UK, Covid-19 restrictions have begun to ease. With businesses and people returning to more familiar patterns, the economy is expected to grow strongly this year and next. Whilst all places will benefit, the pace of recovery is likely to vary across the country. There is also a lot of debate about whether Covid-19 will have longer-term impacts on how we live and work.

Given this uncertainty, we think it’s important for local policy-makers to monitor the recovery in their local area. This will help target support to people, businesses and places more effectively.

Our guide to locally available data to help monitor the recovery

What Works Growth has published Recovery from Covid-19 at the local level: Using data to inform decision making to help local policy-makers monitor the recovery in their local area. It provides recommendations about datasets that can be used to understand what is happening at the local level.

There are three types of data we recommend monitoring.

1. Are people moving around more?

Many economic activities involve movement between locations, including goods being transported to markets, and individuals travelling for work, study, retail or recreation. Mobility data can help provide an early indication of whether activities are returning to their pre-Covid-19 levels. Mobility dropped dramatically during the first lockdown, with less severe declines in the later lockdowns.

We expect to see mobility increase during the recovery phase. Local policy-makers should consider monitoring:

  • How mobility in their area is changing over time, including how it compares to pre-Covid-19 levels and how the pace of their recovery compares to other areas.
  • How mobility varies across their area – i.e. are some localities returning to pre-Covid-19 mobility levels faster than others?
  • How mobility varies across the week. For example, mobility may return more quickly in relation to recreational activities than for commuting.
  • Whether there have been any other changes in mobility that may have implications for policy. For example, concerns about social distancing may result in a shift from public transport to car travel, affecting congestion and air pollution.

2. What is happening in the local labour market?

Despite the Government introducing measures to protect jobs during the pandemic, unemployment has increased. There are likely to be several trends over the coming year.

  • As the economy opens up, the number of furloughed workers will decline, with the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme due to close in September.
  • Recruitment will increase in some sectors. This is most likely to happen in sectors that did not retain staff during pandemic, where demand is above pre-Covid-19 levels (for example, hospitality businesses in UK tourism destinations), or where businesses are confident of a strong recovery.
  • Some businesses will close or need to scale back, leading to redundancies. It will be particularly important to monitor this in the lead-up to and following the end of the government support schemes for businesses.
  • Over the longer-term, we should see employment increase and unemployment decrease. However, the evidence from previous recessions is that it takes labour markets an extended period of time to return to their previous levels.

Local policy-makers will want to understand:

  • How employment, unemployment and vacancies are changing over time in their area, including how they compare to pre-Covid-19 levels and other areas.
  • How furlough, employment and unemployment vary across age groups. Young people have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19, with them more likely to be furloughed or be unemployed than those in older age groups.
  • How trends are varying across sectors. For example, if furloughed workers are returning to work more slowly in some sectors than others or redundancies are concentrated in particular sectors, this could help local policy-makers target their support.

3. How many Covid-19 cases are there?

People and businesses are likely to continue build Covid-19 into their decision-making, even once restrictions have been lifted. For example, if infection rates are high in the local area, people may choose outdoor leisure activities such as visiting a park or beach over indoor activities like visiting the cinema. As this will impact on local recovery and on demand for services provided by local and combined authorities, it will be important that policy-makers continue to monitor Covid-19 and feed this into their decision-making. This could include:

  • Infection rates, including how these vary across localities and age-groups.
  • Vaccination rates, with people likely to be more confident as these increase.
  • Attitudes and perceptions towards Covid-19, with these providing insights into how people are likely to respond to changing infection and vaccination rates.

How we can help

In addition to the three topics above, our data report also provides suggestions for other topics and resources that local policy-makers may wish to draw on. The briefing also makes recommendations about data that may be useful for longer-term recovery planning and provides advice on how to make best use of data.

Analysis of data will help local policy-makers identify the issues that they need to address. We encourage policy-makers to draw on the literature about ‘what works’ when developing policies to tackle these challenges. What Works Growth publishes evidence reviews and toolkits on what works in local economic growth, and we make recommendations in the briefing about which of these resources we think will be most useful.