Sadiq Khan ‘urgent’ plan to save London’s West End from coronavirus ‘storm’

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Sadiq Khan is asking Boris Johnson to take action to protect the West End, as the coronavirus pandemic leaves central London businesses fronting a “perfect storm”.

The district is on the way to lose a third of its retail and hospitality workforce and more than £5 billion in retail sales by the end of this year, business calculations intimate.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by the Standard, the Mayor of London has set out eight measures to help defend the area’s future.

Recent City Hall polling shows that Londoners are still not travelling into the centre of town, with 66 per cent of those surveyed saying they were unlikely to do so in the next week.

Without the right support, the heart of the capital faces an “existential threat”, Mr Khan warns.

His eight proposals

  1. 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. 
  2. Create a direct financial aid scheme for hospitality, retail, leisure and cultural businesses in central London.
  3. 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.
  4. Extend support for freelancers and the self-employed – the cultural and creative industries that characterise central London are hugely dependent on these workers. 
  5. Overhaul business rates to create a fair playing field between physical and online retail. A subsequent letter with more specific demands will be forthcoming.
  6. 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.
  7. Prioritise investment in NHS Test and Trace and more support for hospitality businesses to implement systems. 
  8. Explore other measures which might increase public confidence, such as making face coverings compulsory in the busiest public spaces, and commission further scientific research into the efficacy of such actions.

Mr Khan said: “For decades central London has been the business and economic engine of the UK, a cultural powerhouse, and a gateway for global tourism to Britain.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

Jace Tyrrell, Chief Executive of the New West End Company – a collection of central London businesses – said: “While we have seen a slow increase in footfall, our retail and hospitality businesses require further support in light of shoppers’ concerns.

“With few international visitors, the next couple of months will be a defining moment for hundreds of West End businesses and protection of jobs is our top priority.”