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Re-open schools to get London back to growth, urges London First
22 June 2020
A report by London First, the capital’s leading business organisation, calls for immediate action from London’s businesses and policymakers to help get the capital back to growth.
London represents a fifth of UKGDP and generates a substantial tax surplus that funds the delivery of public services across the country. Today, however, it has more than a million furloughed workers. For the private sector to secure a rapid recovery, both local and central governments need to work together to deliver the broad systemic and targeted sectoral support that will be necessary to get the city back to work.
With the public understandably cautious about returning to pre-COVID normality the report, Getting our Capital Back to Growth, sets out the actions needed to restore confidence and show that the city is safe. Getting children back to school is critical, as it will enable parents to return to work, as well as ensuring demand for public transport is reduced and retimed, with Transport for London safeguarded from a collapse of revenues.
Jasmine Whitbread, Chief Executive of London First, said:
“The country is facing the deepest recession in living memory, but the effects will be felt for a generation if local and central government don’t work together to ensure a safe return to schools — failure to do so will risk a generation of young people being left behind.
“Getting schools re-opened will enable parents to get back to work and help firms to return to trading, but given the majority of Londoners are reliant on public transport, a well-managed phased return will be key. This could include cutting the two-metre rule and staggering office hours to ensure that the transport network does not collapse as people return to their offices.
“London on its own contributes a fifth of UKGDP, and if the country is to recover and grow stronger in the longer-term, we must get our capital firing on all cylinders as quickly and safely as possible.”
Evaluating the systems and sectors most critical to helping the capital get back on its feet in the weeks and months ahead, the report calls for action in several areas, including:
On schools, increasing the level of support given to those continuing to learn at home, and supporting schools in delivering the national curriculum to children who have had their learning disrupted.
On the workforce, creating a short-term programme to support those leaving education in search of their first job, and maintaining the furlough scheme for sectors that will return more slowly, such as culture and leisure industries.
On the creative industries, provide clear guidance on planned changes to social distancing rules at the earliest possible moments.
On public transport, City Hall and the Government must put in place a new sustainable funding model to for the longer term and enable TfL to manage the collapse in fare income.
On aviation, creating agreements with countries of a lower risk for travel, moving to a risk-based approach to international travel, and encouraging airlines to release excess airport slots to other airlines.
On universities, a financial package of support to offset the loss in income through a reduction in the number of international students. This could include cutting red tape and fees for visas for those students.
On utilities, returning to business as usual granting of permissions from local councils to maintain resilience, speeding up the rollout of full fibre and 5G, and further investment required in electric charging points.
On housing and real estate, a speedy adoption of the London Plan, extending the Help to Buy scheme, and pausing the introduction of the First Homes proposals until the market is on a more stable footing. £5bn is needed every year to build the number of affordable homes required in the capital.
On commercial property, granting temporary flexibility for buildings used by the tourism and hospitality sectors, and encouraging changes to the Use Classes Order so that premises can be adapted for different uses.
On retail, extending Sunday trading hours and tax-free shopping to visitors from the EU, who make up 70% of tourists in London and are likely to be the first to return.
On cultural sectors, extend the furlough scheme, and ensure relief continues to be available for those businesses that will take the longest to become fully operational. Historic theatres should be protected using grants and planning rules.
It will also be important that decision-makers have an eye on moving towards the future sustainable economy needed to keep the UK competitive in the long-term. As decisions are made to steer the economic shape of the recovery, there is an opportunity to put greater focus on environmental aspects, as well as how the capital can be a stronger force working with and for the whole of the UK.
You can read Getting our Capital Back to Growth here.
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