At the Conservative Party Conference this week, chancellor Rishi Sunak promised he “will always be pragmatic”.
Right now, however, the policies governing our towns and cities appear anything but pragmatic.
Given that the UK’s major cities, and especially London, are going to be vital in helping our economy recover from the impact of Covid-19, it seems “pragmatic” that targeted measures would be in place to protect them. Sadly, they are not.
London is the beating heart of the UK economy, a £550bn powerhouse that accounts for approximately 22 per cent of national GDP, a command centre for the global economy.
The government’s recent work from home instruction is therefore nothing short of a devastating blow. London is a connected ecosystem. From coffee shops to cultural institutions, retail and offices, these businesses are all connected. Collectively, they create a vibrant community and support huge employment.
This vibrancy is the lifeblood to the economy and an essential part of the “city” experience, contributing to wellbeing, talent retention and positive team dynamics within businesses.
In my role running business partnerships and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), fostering this vibrancy is a core part of my work. BIDs are defined areas within which businesses come together to fund projects within the district’s boundaries to create strong communities. In recent years, London’s 60+ BIDs have demonstrated the enormous force for good they can be, delivering tangible enhancements on the ground.
I am responsible for some of London’s largest BIDs, including across South Westminster stretching from Victoria Station to the Royal Courts of Justice, and the City of London, where we lead two BIDs and two new business partnerships. Throughout Covid-19, our role supporting businesses and advocating for London’s survival as a beacon of growth and innovation has taken on even greater importance.
Our business communities stand ready to take pragmatic and workable steps to live with this virus, ensuring that public health is paramount but protecting the vitality of our great city at the same time.
I know that companies have invested millions over the recent months ensuring their premises are Covid-secure. The new government regulations and message that people should work from home mean these efforts will largely go in vain.
It is true that greater flexibility in the way we work has been a trend for many years, and its benefits are clear. However, London is also contending with the overnight collapse in international visitors. Where the hospitality and leisure sector might have been able to just about sustain itself without office workers, without tourists there is even less hope.
The reality is that, without footfall in the city centre, we will sadly see more terminal casualties and a long-term loss of vibrancy.
We are calling for the pragmatism the chancellor speaks of. Public health is the priority, but we must give businesses which have proven their offices are Covid-secure the flexibility to return workers to their desks where it is safe. It means targeted and tailored support for affected sectors such as leisure and hospitality. And it also means better enforcement of mask wearing and social distancing to ensure that our cities can remain open, avoiding another lockdown.
London has supported our country through great periods of instability in the past. It has the potential to lead our recovery, to innovate and pilot new concepts and ideas which will help everyone. However, if left unsupported I fear its ability to do this will be compromised.
My message to the government is simple. Be pragmatic. Understand London’s unique nature and place in our national economy. Back London today — so that London may back the UK tomorrow.
Main image credit: Getty