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Khan demands government rescue package for London’s West End

Words: Huw Morris
London's West End

London mayor Sadiq Khan is urging the government to take urgent action to save the capital’s embattled West End from a perfect storm caused by Covid-19 that threatens its existence.

The move follows forecasts by the New West End Company, which represents 600 retailers, restaurateurs, hoteliers and property owners in the capital, of a loss of more than £5 billion retail sales within the district this year.

A third of the retail and hospitality workforce face redundancy by the end of 2020.

Central London businesses are facing a “perfect storm” of continued homeworking, restrictions on domestic and international tourism, and the requirement for continued social distancing for the foreseeable future until an operational vaccine is found, said Khan.

Recent City Hall polling shows that Londoners are still not travelling to central London – 66 per cent of those surveyed said they were unlikely to go in the next week.

Polling also shows that Londoners would be more comfortable heading into the capital’s centre if face masks were used in a wider range of settings, and not just when inside shops and venues.

In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Khan said he is “doing all within his power” to support struggling businesses, including providing loans and funding directly to small businesses, and ensuring Transport for London’s range of safety and hygiene measures mean that more passengers can travel on the capital’s public transport network, whether for work or to visit cultural venues in the West End.

However, he said central London needs targeted and sustained financial and fiscal government support to survive, arguing that “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.

The mayor calls on the government to create a direct financial aid scheme for hospitality, retail, leisure and cultural businesses in central London. It should also target support for jobs and the workforce by extending the coronavirus job retention scheme for retail, hospitality, leisure, and creative businesses that cannot operate on a financially sustainable level under continued social distancing requirements.

Khan has also asked the government to 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. 

“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,” said Khan.

“In the face of a perfect economic storm, our businesses need urgent and sustained support from government to ensure they can survive this pandemic.”

New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrrell said that although the area had seen a slow increase in footfall, retail and hospitality businesses need 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,” he added.

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