Northern and Midlands towns with sprawling warehouse distribution centres have emerged as the places in Britain with the strongest growth in job opportunities as the economy exits lockdown.
Reflecting the online shopping boom during the pandemic, data compiled by the jobs website Indeed and the Centre for Cities thinktank showed that Barnsley, Mansfield and Stoke-on-Trent – all strategic locations for distributors such as Amazon, Hermes and Asos – were staging the fastest recovery.
Internet sales accelerated during lockdown while nonessential shops were closed, fuelling the construction of vast warehouses on the outskirts of towns and cities dotted across the motorway network.
In contrast, towns and cities with a higher mix of hospitality, food and drink and tourism are lagging behind.
Belfast recorded a fall of 39% in job postings, as did Crawley in Sussex, which has struggled given the town’s proximity to Gatwick airport while flights remain largely grounded. London is also among slower places to recover, with job postings 26% below pre-pandemic levels.
London and the south-east have been disproportionately hit by job losses during the crisis, given higher numbers of office staff working from home, fewer international tourists and a greater reliance on hospitality and leisure jobs.
Aberdeen, which relies most on the North Sea oil industry, suffered the sharpest fall in job vacancies, plummeting to 53% below pre-pandemic levels.
Pawel Adrjan, an economist and head of European research at Indeed, said there were signs a “two-step jobs recovery” was taking place as lockdown measures were relaxed.
“While the partial reopening of the economy earlier this month rode to the rescue of many businesses and workers, our research shows that it alone was not enough to lift ailing area’s jobs levels significantly,” he said.
At the top end of the table, the study of 63 cities and large towns found that job postings now exceeded pre-pandemic levels in nine locations, led by Barnsley, with a 21% rise in the number of job ads tracked.
The parcel company Hermes is building its largest warehouse in Europe in the South Yorkshire market town, spending £60m on a distribution hub named Colossus near Junction 36 of the M1 and creating 1,300 jobs. Asos also has a large warehouse just outside the town.
Mansfield, which recorded 20% growth on pre-pandemic job ads, and Stoke-on-Trent, with 17%, are home to Amazon distribution centres, as well as Sports Direct, Sainsbury’s, Asda and New Look.
Elena Magrini, a senior analyst at the Centre for Cities, said that although there was growth in the number of job vacancies, many towns in the north and Midlands were still struggling.
“They were weaker before the pandemic, but pretty sheltered as their sectors weren’t affected as much, so are bouncing back more quickly,” she said.
“That said, they are bouncing back to a place of weakness. They had higher unemployment levels than the rest of the country before Covid-19, so the percentage increase might be big, but they are still struggling.”