The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan met businesses in the heart of London’s West End to highlight the urgent action needed to protect its future in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Central London businesses are facing a ‘perfect storm’ of continued home working, restrictions on domestic and international tourism, and the requirement for continued social distancing for the foreseeable future until an operational vaccine is found. The New West End Company has forecast a loss of over £5 billion retail sales within the district this year, with one third of the retail and hospitality workforce potentially being made redundant by the end of this year.
Central London, Khan said needs targeted and sustained financial and fiscal support from the Government in order to survive. The economic case for protecting these businesses is overwhelming – London’s economy accounts for a quarter of the UK’s total economic output and contributes a net £38.7 billion to the Treasury.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson Khan outlines eight proposals that would help secure the West End’s future survival. These are:
- Confirm an extension to the business rates holiday, which is due to end in March, or a discount for businesses in the central London area for the next year, guaranteed now. Many large retail, leisure and hospitality businesses will take important decisions for 2021/22 in the coming weeks, so certainty over the business rates holiday is urgently needed.
- Create a direct financial aid scheme for hospitality, retail, leisure and cultural businesses in central London.
- Provide targeted support for jobs and the workforce extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for retail, hospitality, leisure, and creative businesses that will not be able to operate on a financially sustainable level under continued social distancing requirements.
- Extend support for freelancers and the self-employed. The cultural and creative industries that characterise central London are hugely dependent on these workers.
- Overhaul business rates, to create a fair playing field between physical and online retail. A subsequent letter with more detailed demands will be forthcoming.
- Introduce a support scheme for small and medium-sized businesses that are struggling to meet their rent bills due to coronavirus, which could help to ease negotiations between landlords and tenants in cases where rent is in arrears.
- Prioritise investment in NHS Test and Trace and more support for hospitality businesses to implement systems. It is now clear that we need to learn to live with the virus, and Test and Trace plays a large role in giving the public confidence.
- Explore other measures which might increase public confidence, such as making face coverings compulsory in the busiest public spaces (as has been done in Paris), and commission further scientific research into the efficacy of such measures.
The Government giving people the confidence they have the virus under control is also absolutely vital. Recent City Hall polling shows that Londoners are still not travelling to central London.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “For decades central London has been the economic engine of the UK, a cultural powerhouse, and a gateway for global tourism to the UK. But it now faces a real existential threat from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Until we have an operational vaccine in place social distancing will have to continue to protect people’s health, and with employers planning to continue home-working well into next year, the numbers of people visiting the West End will be reduced for many months ahead.
“As Mayor I’m doing all within my powers to help. This includes providing loans and funding directly to small businesses and ensuring TfL’s unprecedented range of safety and hygiene measures mean more passengers are now able to travel on London public’s transport network.
“But in the face of a perfect economic storm, our businesses need urgent and sustained support from Government to ensure they can survive this pandemic. This must include extending the business rates holiday beyond next March, in addition to a comprehensive package of new financial support.”
Kate Nicholls, CEO of UKHospitality, said: “It is very welcome to hear the Mayor echo so many of our calls for support for hospitality and tourism.
“These sectors have been hammered by the crisis and they are going to be key to the economic recovery, not just of London, but the whole UK. Lots of businesses in our sector are beginning to reopen, but there are still many who cannot.
“We are only at the very beginning of what will be a long recovery, so having the support of the Mayor is reassuring.”
Bernard Donoghue, Director of The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, said: “Tourism is one of London’s most important and most successful economic sectors – more than half of all international visitors to the UK come to London in a normal year – and although many businesses are reopening they are doing so to greatly reduced visitor numbers.
“London tourism businesses need all the things that the Mayor is asking Government for, and we’re very pleased that the Mayor is leading the push to recover our domestic market, win back our overseas visitors, and ensure that our attractions, hotels, restaurants, bars, theatres and performance venues are protected and sustained until they can get back into normal profitability.”