Dublin city traders concerned over return of work from home

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Business groups have raised concerns over the impact a recommendation people return to working from home will have on city centre retailers and the hospitality sector.

Richard Guiney, chief executive of Dublin Town, which represents businesses in Dublin city, said footfall in the city centre had been approaching 2019 levels in recent weeks, before Covid-19 cases started to increase.

Recommendations in place for much of the pandemic that people work from home where possible had severely impacted the Monday to Friday trade in Dublin city, he said. “The office workers are a very important part of the city centre trade,” he said.

Businesses had been staggering employees back to offices from late September, before Government advice changed this week to work from home unless it is necessary to attend the workplace in person from Thursday onwards.

Footfall levels tracked by Dublin Town show the numbers in the city centre over the first week of November had reached 85 per cent of 2019 levels.

However, following a sharp increase in infections in recent weeks footfall had begun to drop, down to 80 per cent of 2019 levels this week, he said.

Those in the hospitality sector reported receiving calls to cancel reservations, Mr Guiney said. Detailed data on how city centre footfall was affected by guidance to work from home would be available early next week, he said.

The six-week period before Christmas was generally seen as a crucial time for traders. “If they don’t have a good Christmas you could see quite a few closures in January,” he said.

Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish Small and Medium Enterprises Association (ISME), said many businesses were already working from home where possible.

“That’s why there was a certain amount of head scratching on our side this week because an awful lot of businesses already were,” he said.

“Town is relatively quiet, though there are still a lot of offices open,” he said.

Mr McDonnell added that many businesses are worried about potential further restrictions being announced by the Government in the coming weeks.

“Given what happened last year, city and town centres in particular had a really bad time last Christmas. That did mean a lot of suburban retailers did really well, but a lot of town centre businesses did very badly last Christmas and if they’re looking down the barrel of that happening this year, that will be existential for a lot of them,” he added.

“What I had heard from many of them is that they were going to go hammer and tongs at Christmas 2021 and if it worked out for them they’d continue but if not, they’ll either head for the hills themselves or their creditors will at the end of February, before the VAT bill is paid.

“There are actually people considering pulling down the curtains in quarter one [OF 2022]and I think this will have drawn that a bit closer for a lot of them,” he said.