It’s hard to find a business in the capital that hasn’t been hit by the Covid-19 crisis. City life brings a rich mix of cafes, pubs, restaurants, hotels, theatres and museums – all shut. Travel restrictions take away the easy connectivity we are used to. And social distancing measures make life even more difficult – and strange — for Londoners and London’s businesses. Do it we must, but it isn’t easy.
We’ve been keeping our finger on the pulse of our members views on this crisis since it began. Where they can, they have tried to adapt to the shifting status quo: most ubiquitously closing offices and moving face-to-face operations online.
Many have been helping others too; from sharing information and guidance to offering support to workers throughout their supply chain. Some have been able to go even further, stepping up to help tackle Covid-19 on a grander scale. London’s ExCel centre – a London First member – will be opening a new temporary hospital, helping the NHS expand its capacity and treat those affected. We applaud them.
But while all are adapting, few can do so fully. So our members are relieved to see the commitment of government to provide support – whether the targeted business rates reliefs, loans, employment subsidies or tax holidays. But welcome as these are, practical challenges remain. We need a shift from piecemeal measures which can displace cashflow problems to elsewhere in the supply chain to more systemic interventions to support the economy as a whole and all workers, not just those who are employees; we need to have a more nuanced approach – for example not everyone should be 100% or furloughed – part-time working will often be better for both people and businesses; and, critically, we need detail over how the schemes will work, with the cash flowing to businesses in the coming weeks, not months.
This is all made more complex by the different challenges facing different sectors beyond the well documented sharp and immediate cashflow collapses in retail, leisure and hospitality.
Take Higher Education. London has around 100,000 overseas students, roughly a third of the total. Those here face a set of stressful and difficult logistical issues; and those due to start next September face great uncertainty as to whether they will be able to begin their courses. These personal challenges amount to a potential disaster for London’s universities much of whose income comes from their fees. They need to know how government will support them soon.
Or look at real estate. It seems common sense that cash-strapped tenants shouldn’t have to pay rent; but this shifts cash-flow problems upstream. Landlords have staff commitments, bills to pay and financing costs too. Government needs to come up with a more holistic approach over the next few weeks.
And travel bans multiplying and passengers unable to fly, London’s airports are feeling the full brunt of the crisis. They play a vital role in keeping goods and people moving, employing tens of thousands of people, directly and indirectly, and there can be no part of the economy more critical to making a success of global Britain. it’s essential that the Government provides them with the support to keep them match-fit.
Over the coming weeks public health will rightly be the government’s first, central priority; with keeping the economy standing running close behind. It’s hard to look ahead when we’re still at the centre of the crisis – but look ahead we must. The business community and government need to work together to determine what will be needed to get our capital and our country back to growth. We’ll be looking to the long-awaited National Infrastructure Strategy as an early harbinger on the Government’s plans for future investment.
In the meantime, we stand ready to help and are doing all we can to support our members during this difficult time. If you haven’t contacted us already, you can reach us here
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