Sadiq Khan unveils plan to save West End from coronavirus ‘storm’

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LONDON: Mayor Sadiq Khan is urging Prime Minister Boris Johnson to take action to save the West End, as the coronavirus pandemic leaves central London businesses facing a “perfect storm”.

The district is on course to lose a third of its retail and hospitality workforce and more than £5 billion in retail sales by the end of the year, business estimates suggest, the Evening Standard has reported.

Mayor Sadiq Khan

In a letter to the Prime Minister, seen by the Standard, the Mayor of London has set out eight steps to help protect the area’s future.

Recent City Hall polling shows that Londoners are still not travelling into the centre of town, with 66 per cent of those surveyed saying they were unlikely to do so in the next week. Without the right support, the heart of the capital faces an “existential threat”, Mr Khan warns.

His eight proposals are as follows:

Confirm an extension to the business rates holiday, which is due to end in March, or a discount for businesses in the central London area for the next year, guaranteed now. 

Create a direct financial aid scheme for hospitality, retail, leisure and cultural businesses in central London.

Provide targeted support for jobs and the workforce extension to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for retail, hospitality, leisure, and creative businesses that will not be able to operate on a financially sustainable level under continued social distancing requirements.

Extend support for freelancers and the self-employed – the cultural and creative industries that characterise central London are hugely dependent on these workers. 

Overhaul business rates, to create a fair playing field between physical and online retail.  A subsequent letter with more detailed demands will be forthcoming.

Introduce a support scheme for small and medium-sized businesses that are struggling to meet their rent bills due to coronavirus, which could help to ease negotiations between landlords and tenants in cases where rent is in arrears.

Prioritise investment in NHS Test and Trace and more support for hospitality businesses to implement systems. 

Explore other measures which might increase public confidence, such as making face coverings compulsory in the busiest public spaces, and commission further scientific research into the efficacy of such measures.

Mr Khan said: “For decades central London has been the economic engine of the UK, a cultural powerhouse, and a gateway for global tourism to the UK. “But it now faces a real existential threat from the Covid-19 pandemic.