Councillors of the City of Dunfermline area committee welcomed the detail in Dunfermline’s Local Economic Profile, which provides the first real opportunity to assess the combined impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit on the local economy.
Visitor numbers reportedly fell by 65.6% in 2020 compared to the previous year - but figures covering tourism visitor days to the area for January to June 2021 were actually up 39.1% on 2020 - the best rate of recovery across Fife in the first half of 2021.
In contrast, Dunfermline recorded the largest decrease in jobs across Fife between September 2019 and 2020, falling from 29,000 to 27,000, and the percentage of vacant units in Dunfermline town centre increased from 19.2% in 2019 to 20.8% in 2021.
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Despite that, the Dunfermline area still boasts the highest employment rate in Fife at 78.1%, has the highest weekly median weekly earnings in Fife at £622.30, and also has the second highest percentage in Fife of 16 to 19-year-olds participating in education, training or employment at 92.6%.
Sunil Varu, business development manager for Dunfermline, revealed new footfall counters were installed in the High Street in November which should hopefully measure the impact of the likes of the Christmas lights switch-on event on attracting people into the town centre.
But he admitted: “We’ve had to hunker down and get on with things as best we can.
“The pre-Christmas issues really impacted the hospitality sector big time and businesses had some very late cancellations which they couldn’t do much about.
“The economy is obviously opening back up this week and next and it’s going to be a gradual getting back to the town centre and improving the town centre experience as a whole.
“There is an appetite for people to go out, but that has to be balanced against the impending cost of living crisis in terms of energy bills going up, taxes going up.
“All of these things will have an impact on consumer confidence so whilst there is an appetite, their ability to spend may be affected so we’re going to have to have a watching brief going forward.”
The figures in the report paint a mixed picture, and Gordon Mole, head of business and employability, admitted the economic impact of COVID-19 and business recovery has, to date, been “uneven”.
“The high proportions of employment within the public sector and health and social care sector in Fife have protected the jobs of many residents in the region, many of whom are working from home.
“However, there are longer-term concerns regarding fatigue and mental and physical health and wellbeing among these employees.
“Further high-profile failures within the high street retail sector (particularly fashion retail) are having a major impact on town and city centres, although the crisis has prompted a welcome rejuvenation in local town centre trading.”
Mr Mole also noted that the biggest impact has been felt by the tourism and hospitality sectors, adding: “Ongoing changes around restrictions to trading, travel and social distancing - which have tended to come during the winter season - have continued to offset shorter-lived periods of recovery seen during the summer months.”