Square Mile braces for Plan B as businesses say work from home guidance will ‘destroy’ trade
Businesses in the City of London have said they are preparing for the worst ahead of a reported announcement on a work-from-home message.
Multiple media outlets have reported that the Prime Minister is to usher in vaccine passports for large venues and instruct office employees to work from home once more. There will be a press conference at 6pm on Wednesday evening.
Bosses of independent firms in Leadenhall Market shared their frustration with CityA.M. at being “left in the dark” over another snap decision that will hit City footfall.
Business owners said they were worried about supporting their families ahead of Christmas and how they would continue to pay commercial rent despite a hit to trade.
“We’ve only just started going again, but it’s not going well. There are no people around and some people coming back at all,” Luna Tesfaie, manager at Korean food shop BiBimBap, said.
“If there is a new measure, that’s it. It’s over all over again. We have to wait to be furloughed, and if furlough doesn’t come back, I’m done,” she added.
The timing of the reported announcement was questioned by some City business owners.
There has been public outcry over reports that civil servants held a Christmas party at Downing Street last year, when the country was plunged into tough Covid measures.
“It’s one rule for them and another for us.”
“It’s one rule for them and another one for us. They can do what they want, but we can’t,” florists Georgie and Lisa, who run Windsor Flowers in the market, said.
The City was a ghost town until September, when office workers finally started returning en masse – still mostly just for a few days per week. Now, businesses fear their lunchtime and after-work trade will dry up completely.
“I just think it’s a joke, the City is dead as it is. It is Christmas time but it doesn’t look like it in the City. We’re just trying to get back on our feet. We’re always left in the dark for so long and then there’s another order. It’s a constant worry,” Georgie and Lisa added.
More businesses could shut shop in the wake of further work-from-home messaging, according to Bruno Giovanni Cacchioli, store manager at Earls sandwich shop.
“It will destroy business. Businesses around here rely on footfall – they can’t survive. Our turnover is already down 70 per cent compared to 2019,” he told CityA.M.
While the shop has served City workers lunch for a mighty 43 years, its manager fears more restrictions “could be the end for Earls.”
Zaheer Ahmed, who works at Luxury Dry Cleaners on Lime St, said he had “had enough” of uncertainty over measures.
“We need people back in the city and working in the office for business to operate as normal,” he said.
Barber shops have been another business to rely heavily on office workers.
“It’s going to be tough for us and tough for everyone around here.”
Ben works at Bolatti, a barber’s shop on Fenchurch St, and said the team had shrunk from four to two because of hybrid working.
“It’s going to be tough for us and tough for everyone around here – small businesses especially,” Ben said.
Not all City businesses were gloomy about the prospect of added restrictions, with Mick, landlord at the Grapes predicting his pub would be “very, very busy,” for the rest of the week.
“I don’t think it will be as bad as people think it will be but I have no idea what is going to happen. We’ve still got loads of bookings, none of them have been cancelled,” he explained.
Across the city, Jace Tyrrell, CEO of the business group New West End Company, said the reports came as a “hammer blow” for retail and leisure tenants in the West End.
He added: “Many businesses have committed time and money in their Christmas plans in a bid to make up for last year’s losses – vital investment that they won’t be able to recoup.
“In the event of further restrictions, the Government must provide immediate clarity on the implications of Plan B for the retail and hospitality industry, and whether additional financial support will be offered to struggling businesses.”