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Gaining insight from Google mobility data

Created 18th November 2020

Google mobility data highlights how COVID-19 related government restrictions and initiatives impacted on the numbers of visits to retail and recreation locations in the North East and elsewhere during the period mid-July - mid-October 2020.

Visits to retail and recreation locations in the North East decreased after the introduction of local restrictions in September according to analysis of Google mobility data by the North East LEP. This followed an increase during August at the time of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.

The decrease in visit numbers in other locations where stricter restrictions were introduced in October highlights the potential impact of such measures on the North East.

Using data to deliver insights

Up-to-date statistics are important to help guide policy makers. They are essential at the moment because the data helps us understand the impact of COVID-19 on the economy, and how we can plan for our recovery.

Because many headline economic statistics have a long time lag - particularly at a local or regional level - data suppliers have created additional sources of statistics to provide insights. The North East LEP is continually monitoring these sources and analysing existing sources in more depth.

About Google mobility reports

Google provide mobility reports in PDF format for each UK local authority area (and for many locations around the world) together with raw daily data going back to mid-February. These statistics show how the number of visits to different types of places compare to an early 2020 baseline.

Google obtains data from users who have opted into location history for their account; recording visits to six types of location. Data is compared with and indexed against the average (median) for the same day during the first six weeks of 2020, which is set as zero.

North East LEP analysis

Our initial analysis of Google’s mobility data in October 2020 was to determine the usefulness of the index for analysing trends over time, and how we might use the index to map the impact of COVID-19 restrictions on the number of visits within the North East and selected comparator areas. We focused on visits to retail and recreation locations including restaurants, cafés, shopping centres (excluding supermarkets), theme parks, museums, libraries and cinemas. Given discussions with Government about proposed restrictions we were particularly keen to understand the impact of the controls associated with different tier levels.

We compared trends in the number of visits in the three months to mid-October for the North East LEP area, the Liverpool City Region and the West of England LEP area (which includes Bristol). The North East and Liverpool City Region faced new restrictions from mid-September, with the Liverpool City Region moving to the stricter tier 3 level in October, along with the Lancashire LEP area, whilst the North East remained at tier level 2. The West of England had no additional restrictions during the three-month period.

The data was not published for LEP areas and City Regions so we created population-weighted averages based on local authority data. We also used rolling seven-day averages of the index to enable trends to be more easily identified.


  • Google mobility data provides useful indications of the local impact of changes to restrictions and of policies such as Eat Out to Help Out on the number of visits to retail and recreation locations.
  • The numbers of such visits throughout the July to October period were below levels in early 2020 in all areas, despite growth during August at the time of the Eat Out to Help Out initiative.
  • The scheme appears to have had a bigger impact on the number of visits in the North East and the Liverpool City Region than in the West of England.
  • Local restrictions resulted in decreasing numbers of visits during September and October in the North East and Liverpool, while the lack of restrictions meant that visits in the West of England remained constant.
  • The introduction of tier 3 restrictions to the Liverpool City region and Lancashire LEP area in October resulted in decreases in the indexed number of visits of 8 percentage points or more.
  • The introduction of earlier restrictions in September in the North East LEP area and Liverpool City region had resulted in immediate decreases in the indexed numbers of visits of about 6 to 8 percentage points.
  • In both cases, the initial impacts of the introduction of the September restrictions were followed by a further (shallower) decrease in the indexed number of visits.

These findings provide an estimate of the impact of potential tier 3 restrictions on the North East LEP area. They also highlight the usefulness of Google mobility data in providing regular, timely, indications of trends in activity.

The full report is available to view here.  Google mobility reports and data can be accessed here.

By Eddie Smith, Economic Analyst at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

Created 5 months ago, [last edited 5 months ago]