The future of the high street and the long-term impact of the coronavirus pandemic on jobs are issues that will be front and centre for many communities across Tayside and Fife at this election.
The furlough scheme, which has protected more than 300,000 Scottish jobs during the crisis, has been extended until the end of September but concerns remain over what the future holds for Scotland’s workforce.
The Office for National Statistics said that from November 2020 to January 2021, employment rates dropped to 74.3% – down 0.6% on the previous quarter.
Almost 9,000 jobs have been cut or put at risk in major announcements from big British companies in the last three months, including the loss of Debenhams, which was described as “significant blow” to retail in Dundee.
Job losses have slowed since last year when more than 270,000 job losses were tracked between late March, when lockdown started, and the end of December.
But time and again, the economy and jobs, particularly in relation to young people, were raised in focus group research carried out by Survation to help inform our election manifesto.
A poll of 2,047 people, conducted by the firm as part of the same project, showed that more than a third of Scots listed the economy as one of the most important issues, with only health polling higher.
It was a key issue for men, with 41% naming it as one of their top priorities, compared to 31% of women, and it was also listed by more than 40% of people aged over 45, compared to just 17% for 16 to 24-year-olds.
One of the participants in the focus groups was Molly, 20, who lives in Perth City Centre with her two flatmates and is currently on furlough from her job in Dundee.
“I’m worried about local businesses and what support they’ll have coming out of the pandemic because there’s already been a few that have shut down,” she said.
“They’ve had no choice and I think there will be many more. I don’t think that’s really fair on businesses that have been told you can’t open. A lot of them have been shut for months and months now.
“Another issue I think is important is job security, for everyone, but I think in particular young people. I have a lot of friends who had graduate jobs lined up and just completely lost them.
“I think a lot of young people have lost out on opportunities, which wouldn’t have happened without the pandemic.”
Rebecca, a 24-year-old who lives just outside Dundee, recently completed teacher training but currently works at a bakery.
She lives at home with her parents and younger brother but said she had seen the effect of the pandemic on communities while out delivering to local shops.
“You are really starting to see how much Covid has taken its toll on local businesses, people who live out and about,” she said.
“A lot of the regular customers you’d sometimes meet, you aren’t seeing them anymore.
“At the moment unemployment in Dundee is really bad because so many businesses have had to shut because they can’t afford to keep going because of Covid.
“The hospitality industry was a big one. The industry has really taken a steep decline because of Covid but hopefully because of Dundee evolving in the way it has, with the V&A and things, once Covid is over and restrictions aren’t as bad, it will start to pick up again and hopefully there’ll be more jobs.”