A LEADING business figure in York has warned that the current shutdown cannot be sustained for a prolonged period without causing irreparable damage to the economy.

As the Government considers the lockdown exit strategy, Jonathan Oxley says he has done a survey of colleagues, contacts and clients about the crisis to gauge views.

“No-one expects this to be all over soon," said Mr Oxley, a corporate partner, chairman and head of the York office at Lupton Fawcett. "Even the most optimistic anticipate a phased release from lock-down at some point in the next four to eight weeks."

My Oxley, a past chairman of the Institute of Directors (IoD) in Yorkshire, added: "The Government has, of course, signalled that some people in the at risk categories could be facing protective measures for many months."

He said there was a split in Cabinet between those with the health brief, erring on the side of caution, and those with a business and/ or finance brief, emphasising the huge damage to people, business and the economy by a prolonged shutdown.

"I fail to see how the current situation can be sustained for a prolonged period without doing irreparable damage to the economy both locally and nationally."

He said York's biggest sectors, after health and social care, are retail, wholesale and tourism which have been hit hard.

"It is estimated that York has been attracting over eight million visits a year, generating around £750m of revenue and supporting around 24,000 jobs. Retail in general saw its biggest decline ever in March and visitor numbers to York should now be as close to zero as makes no difference.

"The next biggest sector in the York economy is financial and professional services. A prolonged recession, if that is what follows, will have a negative impact on growth, recruitment and pay in that sector.

"Expectations on what the ‘other side' looks like also vary. Some see bursts of growth in some areas settling into a more patchy recovery. Most foresee a patchy recovery slowly gaining momentum."

He said York's wider challenges included the high proportion of low-paid jobs and the pressure on housing and transport.

"The more cynical may think that everything will go back to ‘normal’ once the pandemic subsides. What a wasted opportunity that would be. There is a great opportunity to harness the desire for positive change that people can now see is possible. Driving that agenda could also be one of the keys to getting the economy moving again, avoiding the risk of prolonged recession and making York in particular an even greater place to live and work."