As a Londoner born and bred, I am acutely sensitive to the ebb and flow of people travelling in and out of London on a daily basis — the human tide of our capital.
Despite various pleas and edicts, right now the centre of London is pretty much empty. The tide went out abruptly at the start of the Covid pandemic, and it hasn’t come back in. King Canute’s aspiration is now our desperation.
Very few people are coming back to work in offices. You can practically see the tumbleweed on main West End thoroughfares such as Piccadilly. Black cabs languish in laybys and the lights are all but out in retail.
The activity that does exist is focused on the suburbs and outskirts of our capital, threatening to create what has been called the Donut effect: an empty city centre. All of which is small consolation to what must be our primary focus — preserving London as a world-leading financial centre, and thus preserving London itself.
As long as banks drag their feet and normalise home working, the damage to our financial supremacy will continue, perhaps even become terminal. Historically, London has managed to retain its dominance by attracting banks to be based in the financial district at the heart of the City. What Brexit, Germany and France didn’t manage to achieve between them, Covid did.
We must now work quickly to preserve London as a financial capital of the world. Calling on banks to open again might be too late, but there is a clear need for a guiding hand to protect London’s prominence in the capital markets.
Perhaps the government should draw from the example of somewhere like Israel. Here, they created the Office of Chief Scientist, the “support arm” of the Israeli government, whose mission is to assist the advancement of Israel’s knowledge-based science and technology industries to encourage innovation, entrepreneurship and economic growth.
Similarly, if London is to protect its position, we need people with business backgrounds who understand what businesses require in order to flourish, to help set the key targets for our capital city, including new areas for legislation (such as cryptocurrency), infrastructure, housing policies and education, among other subjects.
London’s position as a capital centre should be harnessed as an engine to grow the rest of our economy. We just have to ensure we turn the engine back on, and that may now require a team effort.
Main image credit: Getty