Andrew Carter, chief executive of the Centre for Cities, told The Yorkshire Post that the country’s largest cities, particularly Leeds, were recovering in terms of spending and footfall far slower than elsewhere in the nation owing to the absence of office workers.
Millions of British employees have been working from home for more than 14 months, with uncertainty surrounding when many will return to their traditional workplaces when restrictions are further eased.
Business leaders across the region contacted by this newspaper said that they were anticipating operating hybrid models for their staff which would involve mixing both home and office-based working, with the director general of the CBI Tony Danker warning it would take nearly a year for a coherent picture for city centres to emerge as the pandemic subsides.
However Mr Carter cautioned that businesses that rely on the consumer spending power of office workers would undoubtedly face reductions in revenues in the coming months and that this would inevitably lead to redundancies.
Mr Carter called upon local authorities and metro mayors to do their best to restore confidence in city centres and even posited Government subsidies to allow trains and buses to resume operating at full capacity to entice workers back to the office.
But he warned that the future for many small firms in cities would remain uncertain.
“If we assume that hybrid working will become the norm, that will inevitably lead to a drop in demand for those services in those areas, there is no two ways about it,” he said.
“A loss of revenue to those firms will mean a loss of jobs as they scale back .
“The vast majority of office workers are doing a job. They might be at home but they are at work.
“But if you go into those urban services industries like retail, entertainment, hospitality and culture, many of those people are not in work. They are waiting for the city centre and office worker hub to recover in order to come back into work.
“So if the city centre doesn’t recover in the way that we anticipate and assume, then there will be big questions about employment.”
Meanwhile Shadow Business Secretary and Doncaster North MP Ed Miliband called upon the Government to issue clear guidance to business regarding working from home and said legislation was required to ensure stronger rights for employees to work flexibly.
He said: "The Conservatives promised an employment bill - they've got to deliver."
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said that it was currently reviewing social distancing measures in the workplace and recommended people should work from home where possible until this was concluded.