It will need all hands to the pump to get London back where it should be
Last year was for many the most challenging year in living memory. Repeated lockdowns, the loss of loved ones, business closures, job losses and a complete shift in how we live our lives.
Our great capital city has also undergone sudden and dramatic changes. As the pandemic took hold in March it was eerily empty, started to thrive again over the summer as we all ate out to help out, but it has once again become quiet and desolate under lockdown.
It is not the image anyone wanted to see as we make our way into the New Year.
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However, the vaccines give us all hope that at some stage in 2021, we will begin to get back to a sense of normality, to collectively get back on our feet.
And as more and more people get vaccinated, thoughts must turn to how London can bounce back as a renewed, restored and reinvigorated city, fit for the 21st Century.
Our capital city is a beacon. It is among the best places in the world to do business and, while it will not return exactly the same as it was before the pandemic, it has shown a remarkable ability to adapt and weather storms of the past.
London has natural advantages as it seeks to reassert itself as the leader among leading global cities. The breadth and depth of London’s offer is unparalleled anywhere in the world – from the rule of law, the English language, our rich history and genuinely world-beating arts, culture and sport.
All of this must be harnessed to bring visitors back, first the commuters in the suburbs and Home Counties, then domestic tourists and finally international tourists.
How can we begin to get there? First, we need to act swiftly to secure as many viable businesses and jobs as possible – extending business rates and VAT relief throughout 2021 would go a long way in shoring up confidence. The furlough scheme has been extended until April and should be kept under review, so that as many people can retain their jobs and incomes as possible. Thoughts should also turn to those self-employed who have found themselves excluded from support – the spread of tier four only magnifies the need to fill the gaps.
Then, when we can begin to unlock again, there must be a clear unambiguous message on the safety of public transport and the desirability of getting workers back to Covid-secure offices – maybe not five days a week, but at least for some of the time.
And when those commuters and visitors do return, we must ensure that our fantastic theatres, shops, restaurants and pubs are ready to welcome them back. Time is of the essence for our creative sector. That’s why we must start to put in place measures that will help them to thrive again.
We need to see a reversal of the decision to end VAT-free shopping – so that our retailers can remain attractive destinations against international competitors. We need to ready a major promotional campaign, so that when people start thinking about their return to domestic and then international travel, they are reminded of all the wonderful things London has to offer.
Business must play their part too. I’ve been really encouraged by how our members have stepped up at a time of national crisis – whether it is donating PPE equipment, providing meals to NHS workers, or making space for Nightingale Hospitals.
Firms stand ready to help central and local governments in supporting the take-up of vaccination and rapid testing. It is critical that the mass rollout of the vaccine is well-coordinated across the capital, which means businesses, the Mayor, the NHS and the boroughs working hand in glove to reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
This is a burning platform moment for our city. We must be ready to talk it up, we must avoid the economic risk of failing to secure its future, and we need to acknowledge that its success is vital for that of the nation, given the £38bn tax surplus it generates.
Our future London will be a different London, but it can also be a better one as it comes roaring back as the world’s pre-eminent business hub, with the central activity zone returning as a thriving centre, benefitting from the different ways we now work, bringing in more people and driving the recovery across the whole of the UK.
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