Sadiq Khan and members of City Hall’s new London Covid Business Forum have set out a 12-month roadmap for economic recovery in the capital. The roadmap was announced yesterday in a joint plea to Boris Johnson for urgent action to support London business on five fronts, including axing the 10 p.m. pub and restaurant curfew when national lockdown ends and rolling out mass virus testing.
The government should also extend Business Rates relief for retail, leisure, childcare, and hospitality businesses and reverse plans to scrap VAT-free shopping for international visitors, the Forum said. It added that clear guidance for business ahead of post-lockdown changes to Covid restrictions and tiers, including “a clear explanation of the evidence underpinning the restrictions” should be provided.
“The future of our capital city as a global centre of business, culture and tourism is vital to our country’s economy. Damage to London’s global competitiveness will not just be felt in the capital but will impact the whole of the UK,” the letter says. “We all stand ready to work alongside the government to ensure that London, as well as the rest of the country, once again returns to pre-pandemic levels of prosperity.”
As well as Mayor Khan, London Councils chair Georgia Gould and City Corporation chief Catherine McGuinness, signatories include the London Chamber of Commerce, lobby group London First and representatives of the capital’s creative, retail, leisure and tourism industries.
The overall roadmap, seen by On London, sets out a three-phase approach for the coming year, drawing on discussion at the government’s London Transition Board and plans currently being finalised by City Hall’s London Recovery Board.
Alongside wider support for business and self-employed workers, short-term calls on government to include trials of safe reopening of nightlife, cultural and sporting events, new help for businesses to improve ventilation systems, and beefed up health and safety enforcement.
London government should agree a “Winter Plan” to “facilitate alfresco dining and socially distanced shopping on London’s high streets”, while supporting “shop local” campaigns, encouraging the upgrade of the Oxford Street area and encouraging a return to the West End “when public health guidance supports non-essential travel”, the roadmap says.
Medium term plans include campaigns to build confidence in returning to offices and the high street, a programme of “‘as-safe-as-possible” high-profile events to mark London’s reactivation, a continuing focus on “active travel”, including cycling and walking, and schemes to encourage short-term use of vacant property on high streets and in the West End.
The government should also agree systems for the safe reintroduction of international travel, provide sustainable funding for public transport in the capital – including the funding needed to get the Crossrail Elizabeth Line open – and invest in “reactivating” international and domestic tourism.
Longer-term, the roadmap calls for further devolved funding for the capital, including new funding for skills and training, and targeted economic stimulus including support for “green” business, “digital connectivity” and infrastructure to create jobs, including the Dagenham Film Studios project.
Due to the “ever-evolving nature of the pandemic”, the roadmap will be “subject to revision as circumstances change”, it states. “It’s an evolving document, reflecting the latest thinking and ideas from the business forum,” a City Hall spokesperson said.
Khan reinforced that point at the London Assembly’s Mayor’s Question Time session last week. “We don’t know what the full extent of the impact of the pandemic will be,” he said. “Increased economic support is clearly needed, and targeted financial support for business will be needed.”
The Forum’s cautious blueprint follows a cross-party call at the London Assembly earlier this month for Khan to step up work on economic recovery and warnings from the Centre for London think tank that the capital is facing a deeper crisis than the rest of the UK, with unemployment on the rise and the West End remaining subdued.
Central London retail footfall was down more than 80% last week on the same time last year, according to retail analysts Springboard, and London Chamber of Commerce chief executive Richard Burge has joined pre-Spending Review calls for government help as businesses awaited details of post-lockdown restrictions.
“Businesses in the centre of London will particularly be hoping that the Spending Review delivers targeted support for the capital – which is suffering significantly from loss of commuter and tourist revenue, and potentially faces restrictions that continue to compound that challenge,” Burge said.
Khan used the Question Time session last week to announce £10 million City Hall investment in green projects, billed as the first tranche of £50 million “Green New Deal” funding for London originally announced in February this year, before the postponement of the mayoral election.
The funding would create a thousand jobs, in energy efficiency and green transport projects, the mayor said, supporting a green economy sector in the capital now worth £48 billion.
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