Sadiq Khan has called on national government to provide targeted support for the capital’s West End to help it through a “perfect storm” of continuing home working, restrictions on tourism, and social distancing requirements, including on public transport, which is devastating a district whose success is crucial to the national economy.
In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the Labour Mayor asks his Conservative predecessor at City Hall to assist businesses in the capital’s Central Activities Zone (CAZ) with additional rates and rent relief, a “direct financial aid scheme” for the hospitality, retail and cultural industry sectors, and an extension of financial support for the self-employed workers on which the latter heavily depends.
Khan tells Johnson that “the economic case for protecting these businesses is overwhelming”, saying that the combined economic output of the CAZ and the Isle of Dogs financial district accounted for 13 per cent of the UK’s entire economic output in 2017.
“As you know, the centre of London is the UK’s economic and cultural powerhouse, and a gateway for global tourism and investment into the rest of the UK,” the Mayor writes. “It has contributed to the UK far more than it has taken out, and while I support efforts to grow the prosperity of all parts of the country, this will not happen if as a country we abandon our most dynamic and productive commercial hub to decline.”
Khan is supported in his overture to Downing Street by the New West End Company, which represents many of the area’s major retails and hospitality providers. It’s chief executive Jace Tyrrell asks the government to “keep retail and hospitality in front of mind and not forget the beating heart of the British economy as lockdown is eased”.
Tyrell underlines the Mayor’s call for additional help, saying that increased footfall in the are has been small and that “with few international visitors, the next couple of months will be a defining moment for hundreds of West End businesses”.
Also supporting the Mayor’s move are Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, who thanked him for echoing her concerns, and Bernard Donoghue, director of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, who said London tourism businesses “need all the things the Mayor is asking government for”.
Khan grouped his requests into “eight proposals that would would help secure the West End’s future survival”. As well as financial and fiscal help for employers and workers, he asks the PM to “prioritise investment in NHS test-and-trace and more support for hospitality businesses to implement systems”, which he says would do much to increase public confidence, and for the government to “explore” widening the compulsory wearing of face-coverings to “the busiest public spaces”.
The economy of London as whole has been generating almost a quarter of total UK economic output, and in recent years has produced a “tax surplus” spent across the rest of the country of well over £30 billion per annum. Khan’s initiative follows initial expressions of concern by the influential Westminster Property Association that the government’s plans for reforming the planning system make no provision for “good growth” in the capital, enabling development tailored to meet local economic and social priorities.
The Mayor has used to his own limited influence and resources to assist the West End. In his letter, he describes what he calls “key steps” he has taken, including creating a £2.3 million “culture at risk” fund for creative and night-time industries. His eight proposals to Johnson are listed below, as they appear in the letter:
- Confirm an extension to the business rates holiday which is due to end in March or a discount for businesses in the CAZ 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 the CAZ.
- 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.
- Progress an overhaul of business rates, in particular one that creates a fair playing field between physical and online retail. A subsequent letter with more detail 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 facilitate 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.
- I would also encourage the Government to explore other measures which could increase public confidence and bring public health benefits, 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 Mayor is meeting West End businesses today to highlight the government action he is seeking.
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