I HAVE hand-delivered a bill for £90,000 to the mayor of London. This is – give or take a few hundred pounds – what the Olympic Games have cost me in turnover since they began. And I have asked Boris Johnson to pay the bill personally, not from the seemingly limitless coffers that supported London 2012.
My restaurant, High Timber, sits in a fantastic location on the banks of the Thames, just to the left of the Millennium Bridge. It’s normally well-stocked with accountants, lawyers, bankers and visitors to this great city of ours. But, since the Games began, I have lost 80 per cent of my trade.
I’m not someone who is usually given to fits of pique. Nor will this period break me. I’m South African and I deal with problems head on, normally after a look at the cricket score while turning over a chop on the braai. But no braai will fill the substantial void in my company accounts.
I squarely blame Johnson for my lack of customers because, time and again, he warned Londoners to leave room for the millions of visitors he said would come to the capital. This inspired City bosses to suggest that their employees either take their holidays during the Olympics, or work from home.
The head of a large City accountancy firm told me that the number of employees actually working in his office had dropped to 15 per cent. There is no-one here. And the heralded influx of tourists didn’t land in the City. They travelled east, where the action is.
And the dire prophecies of congestion never materialised. In fact, the new sport at High Timber has been to watch the congestion on the nearby Olympic Zil lanes, while the public routes remain free. We ponder whether the Zil traffic is fined £130 if it strays across. Now that would be justice.
The mayor – the same mayor I voted for, by the way – may speak of jam tomorrow, but it’s the here and now that pays wages. I’m the one who shoulders the additional costs of employing staff to work extra hours because of new delivery times. Had I known, I would have closed my doors and sent everyone on holiday.
It’s been a travesty of miscalculation and scaremongering.
Am I the only one who thinks the mayor’s posse of advisers have obviously not done their homework? Did they not ask previous Games organisers how they coped with the increase in visitors? Did Beijing or Sydney really advise us to tell everyone to stay at home?
Did the mayor estimate, even for a minute, the true impact of his “sky is falling” publicity campaign? No, he went into overdrive without, I believe, properly calculating the consequences of his recommendations.
In my bill to Johnson, I have included the ludicrous 20 per cent VAT imposed on my diners. And I can assure Johnson I will continue to promptly pay the £106,000 business rates collected every year. I wonder whether there will be a reduction in that amount, given that the City has been closed for business for two weeks.
Neleen Strauss is the owner of High Timber restaurant.