The COVID-19 pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for Australia and the city of Newcastle. In the June 2020 quarter, the nation’s GDP fell by seven per cent, the largest quarterly decrease on record. Unemployment peaked across the city at 11%, with young people, women and marginalised groups even more severely impacted. Between April and September 2020 an average of over 6,500 businesses per month applied for JobKeeper payments in Newcastle.
This downturn was reflected locally in the Wallsend business precinct. As shown in the graph here, spending in the local grocery store and supermarket sector remained buoyant throughout 2020. However the transport, dining and entertainment and personal services (including hairdressers and beauty salons) sectors were particularly hard-hit in the first half of the year: spending in these businesses during April 2020 was about 55% of expenditure levels in December 2019.
There are indications the local economy has rebounded well, with December 2020 retail spending in the Wallsend precinct even surpassing prior year levels. Specialised food retailing businesses in the local area appear to be experiencing a small boom period, possibly reflecting a pandemic-inspired shift in consumer preferences. However there is still much volatility and uncertainty, particularly in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Transport-related businesses in Wallsend also appear to have not fully recovered to 2019-level revenue levels. In coordination with the Wallsend Business Improvement Association, the City of Newcastle has been targeting assistance at these industries. This includes the provision of business recovery training and support, and other targeted promotion for food services, dining and entertainment businesses. We welcome new ideas on how to support local businesses in this crucial recovery year, and encourage you to get involved in your local business community through the Wallsend Town Business Association.