Friday 12 June 2020 5:18 am

London's businesses can lead a UK-wide economic recovery

Jasmine Whitbread is chief executive of London First

As the focus shifts from the immediate health crisis of Covid-19 to slowly easing the lockdown, the capital’s business leaders are committed to playing their part.

Early this week, I brought together some of London’s most prominent businesses, representing all sectors of the economy, to map out solutions that support a business-led recovery. 

From Heathrow, to WeWork, to restaurant group D&D London, I was joined by leaders committed both to London and to Britain’s success far into the future.

For weeks, there has been much agreement between government and business on the problems the capital faces, from managing demand for public transport, through to the impact of a two-metre social distancing restriction on restaurants and pubs. But less has been said on what can be done to address them and avert the worst of the recession coming our way.

London is a great city with the potential to lead economic recovery for the whole UK. Levelling up — as promised by the Prime Minister in the last election — demands that London works harder for everyone. From better support for key workers in the city to protecting business supply chains across the country, everyone stands to benefit from a capital firing on all cylinders. 

It was clear in discussion at the Mayor’s Recovery Board earlier this week that if London is to champion UK-wide economic growth, it must also fight to retain its international competitiveness. And here, confidence holds the key.

We need to work towards being more open than ever, which will take absolute clarity on how people can go back to work and safely return to our cities. 

We need to be drawing in visitors from around the UK, not least to safeguard the survival of our cultural and hospitality sectors, as well as ensuring that our immigration system supports recovery. 

And we need to act now on skills and apprenticeships to prevent mass youth unemployment blighting a generation.

So how can business lead here?

First, we can advise our workforces on how to use public transport safely. Companies know who they need in the office and who can remain at home, making social distancing possible. We also need to support a full campaign around demand management, working closely with Transport for London, staggering who travels and when, and sharing crystal clear messages on how to get around now.

Second, there is collective action needed by all of London’s businesses to give people confidence: confidence to travel, confidence to return to work, and confidence to spend money. People are cautious about returning to normality, so we need to show them that we can make the city safe for them to go back to. Our capital’s businesses should back the campaign that London & Partners is leading to tackle this.

Thirdly, our businesses and educational establishments must work together on upskilling and on reigniting apprenticeship programmes, to ensure that the careers of young people are not limited as a result of this period of turbulence.

Finally, turning to leisure and hospitality, the resounding feedback from the sector is that social distancing is manageable at one metre, but two metres would be a disaster. This is bad for restaurants, worse for pubs, and almost impossible for theatres. 

But the sector is confident that it can put in place other measures, alongside a one-metre rule, that would enable people to enjoy themselves safely. Operators can work out how to do this best, but they need clarity on parameters. Now is the time for the government to provide them.

London businesses are working closely with the mayor and central government, and stand ready to do more.

With greater clarity from the government, we can help ensure that London is able to bounce back as quickly as possible and support jobs and growth across the whole country.

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Main image credit: Getty

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