Loss of village pubs will hit North Yorkshire hard when pandemic is over, says Local Enterprise Partnership chairman David Kerfoot

Communities across rural Yorkshire are going to be hit hard by the loss of the pubs and shops that "make that place tick" when life starts to return to normal after the pandemic, according to a senior business figure.

David Kerfoot, the chairman of the North Yorkshire and York Local Enterprise Partnership, said he felt "very sad" that pubs and other community assets had "gone left, right and centre" as the pandemic saw their revenues disappear overnight.

And he said the economy in England's largest county, which is made up of 97 per cent small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), has seen "big hits and casualties", particularly across tourism and hospitality.

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David Kerfoot, chairman of the North Yorkshire and York Local Enterprise Partnership.

According to analysis of national statistics by the LEP, which is responsible for promoting economic growth, the number of benefits claimants in North Yorkshire and York was 131 per cent higher in December than pre-pandemic levels at nearly 19,000.

Forecasts from Oxford Economics in December suggest that employment within York and North Yorkshire will return to pre-covid levels by 2025 but this differs across sectors.

It is estimated that even by 2029, accommodation and food services will remain 2.4 per cent below pre-covid levels and this may be exacerbated by the third national lockdown which has not yet been considered in the forecasts.

Comparatively, arts, entertainment and recreation are expected to bounce back quicker with pre-covid levels returning by 2024, while wholesale and retail, likely shielded by sales of food and drink products, will return by 2023.

Mr Kerfoot, describing the "major impact" Covid has had in the county, said: "From a community aspect. I always feel very very sad that places like pubs now have gone left, right and centre.

"If you think about what's the centre of the community, what's the centre of a place, what makes that place tick, and it's the post office, the shop, the community hall or the pub, most of the time.

"To lose institutions like that, I think, is going to hit us hard in the future when we get back to any kind of sense of normality."

He added: "We've got 17, 18 market towns, which are suffering high street wise, there's no doubt about that. And then we've got these hundreds of villages, large and small, which are the fulcrum of those communities and the pubs there, the shops, post offices are so important.

"I do fear that when we come out of that there will be further impact to come because we've lost that sense of the centre of a village, the core of a village in the heart of it. I think that's sad."

The outgoing chairman of the LEP said the way people work in North Yorkshire was also going to change because of reduced travel, as employees and businesses look at doing more online.

He has been encouraging retailers to sign up with ShopAppy, a digital platform designed to give small independent businesses a way to operate and compete with online retail giants.

He said: "I think people are going to rethink how they work, whether that's a business or an individual. Some people undoubtedly have said 'I like this mix of being able to work from home and in the place of business, I can handle that, my employer can handle that'. And that's a positive.

"On the negative side, you have the situation where I think mental health, undoubtedly, we have seen in LEP terms, the impact of people being enclosed for so long, on their own for so long, not having that social interaction. So it is quite hard.

"I do think though, on the positive side, one of the things is that it's given a lot of businesses an opportunity to actually revamp and rethink about the way they work, 'have we always been doing this in the right way?'."

Mr Kerfoot said another important outcome of the pandemic was "the rise of staycations and people coming to our region to discover the delights of our moors, dales, coast and wonderful countryside".

He said: "I sincerely believe this will be one of those positives to arise out of it all – the discovery of our patch as a glorious place to visit rather than catching a plane abroad."