powerful coalition of London business leaders has urged Rishi Sunak to deliver a “Marshall Plan” in his Budget next month to help the capital’s shattered economy rise again after the pandemic.
In a letter to the Chancellor the heads of groups representing more than 6,000 businesses including Fortnum & Mason, Heathrow Airport, The Ritz Hotel and Battersea Power Station, said 11 months of lockdowns and restrictions have hit London “disproportionately”.
This was because of the loss of most commuters and nearly all tourists, the city’s high costs, and its reliance on particularly badly affected sectors such as hospitality, aviation and culture.
The Marshall Plan was a US programme of aid to rebuild western Europe after the Second World War.
The letter said that almost a year of effective closure for areas such as the West End “and the absence of a path to recovery have created a genuine sense of despair among workers and business owners alike.”
It was signed by Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Helen McIntosh, who chairs London’s Local Chambers of Commerce, and Tony Matharu and Ros Morgan, both directors of the Central London Alliance, which includes companies, charities and Business Improvement Districts among its membership.
They said the Government needed to be “loud and proud” about London as it was the nation’s tax-generating engine and held the key to the Prime Minister’s levelling up agenda. There are fears that Mr Sunak will prioritise the Midlands and the North over London in his Budget on March 3. The capital has seen the fastest rise in unemployment of any region in Britain during the pandemic and footfall in the West End is down 88 per cent on 2020.
Key demands in the letter include an extension of the furlough scheme beyond the end of April; maintaining the business rates holiday and VAT relief scheme; pushing back other tax payment deadlines to the end of the year; and increasing the level of grants “to better reflect the high costs of doing business in London”.
It also calls for targeted help for sectors that have effectively been closed since March, such as a pledge to cover the cost of event cancellation if further restrictions are ordered, increased theatre tax relief and extended business rates relief for airports.
Measures to encourage people back into central London could include new flexible rail ticketing and a global marketing campaign to encourage visitors to return when it is safe to do so.
Mr Burge said: “As we look to recover from this pandemic we need the Government to be loud and proud about London and the role that it plays both nationally and globally… Allowing London to be levelled-down will not aid levelling-up the rest of the UK. A thriving London is the main and essential way to help level-up the regions that desperately need the help. This Budget presents a vital opportunity to demonstrate support for London.”
The demands came as Sadiq Khan called on the Government to appoint a dedicated minister for reopening the economy to help coordinate efforts to revive cities and London in particular. He said: “Ministers still need to realise that many businesses remain at a crisis point. Plans to end the business rates holiday and VAT cut in March and then the furlough scheme in April create a huge financial cliff-edge for employers.”
The Chancellor was today reported to be prepared to extend the furlough scheme until summer and prolong the business rates holiday for retail, hospitality and leisure.
The third lockdown has badly hit the high street with retail sales down eight per cent in January, the ONS said today. Clothing sales were down 35 per cent.
— to www.standard.co.uk