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Business, but not as usual

High stakes for the high street as leading security expert asks ‘what’s in store for retailers post coronavirus?’

The British high street will return to trading, but it’s unlikely to resemble business as usual, according to a leading security expert.
As the latest Springboard store footfall figures reveal an unprecedented decline of 41.9 per cent, retailers planning for post-COVID-19 business resumption are unlikely to recognise the shopping landscape as social distancing measures remain in force for the foreseeable future to re-assure customers and staff, according to Dan Hardy, the strategy and transformation director for Amberstone Security.

This underlines the view of one of the government’s chief scientific advisors, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London who said that social distancing measures should not be relaxed until a vaccine is generally available, which could be more than a year away.

In a series of high-level presentations, Dan, former managing director of the National Business Crime Solution (NBCS) who is standing as an independent candidate for Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset, argues that as a result of drastic lockdown measures, a post-COVID-19 vacuum could emerge in the UK’s high streets where the disease is replaced by rising crime rates.

A former Metropolitan Police detective, as well as the Crime and Security Partner for one of the big four supermarkets, Dan has, in his latest role, seen more than a 3,000 per cent increase in retailer requirement for guarding as a result of store closures.

The furloughing of retail staff and the potential for long-term reduced funding for Business Crime Reduction Partnerships and BIDs could also lead to a loss of crime intelligence which will put additional pressure on police resources, a factor that will be compounded by a decade of limited town centre engagement by local officers, Dan argues in his hard-hitting scenario setting.

“On a positive front, we have seen crime reduction as a result of store closures and more visibility of police officers as well as persistent prolific offenders (PPOs) being re-housed during the lockdown.

“We are also seeing community cohesion with everyone coming together, something that needs to be harnessed going forward.

“However, with reduced retailer funding as a result of the economic impact, we could see the closure of BCRPs and BIDs which would mean a loss of local intelligence, particularly around well-known PPOs. Furloughing of retail staff also presents challenges around keyholding capability to respond to alarm call-out as well as asset vulnerabilities as stores lie empty. All of this can further degrade the image of the high street.”

Dan, who also has a military background and crowd control expertise from his service in the Police, argues that continued social distancing requirements after the restrictions are partially lifted will result in a different shopping experience with the need for greater planning and controls.

For example, he argues security personnel may need to work with local authorities and BCRPs and BIDs in managing reduced capacity in car parks, on public transport and even on access control barriers to help marshal one-way flows of footfall along a high street or shopping precinct, as well as controlling orderly queues in and out of smaller stores to maintain social distancing.

His scenario also includes temperature checking of shoppers entering stores which would have to be delicately managed and involve a set of nationally-agreed standards to ensure consistency and customer engagement policies with supportive de-escalation training across the UK.

Footfall management using clearly-marked contraflow signage on the pavements would be implemented along with vulnerable person controls so none of the re-housed homeless would be allowed to set up encampments on the streets.

“Every local authority knows the square meterage of the shopping areas so they are in a position to control and manage shoppers based upon high street capacity which would be limited to one sqm per person which would of course vary by location,” added Dan.

“This could work as a full or partial implementation where there were just reduced numbers on the streets and public transport but with clear instruction on sensible social distancing along pavements.”

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