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Mayor presses the case for a West End bailout

Sadiq Khan demands action as central London reels from pandemic which has hit tourism and left shoppers and revellers wary of going into town

14 August, 2020 — By Tom Foot

Sadiq Khan: ‘The centre of London is the UK’s economic and cultural powerhouse’

THE government must send “direct financial aid” to the West End if it is to survive, the Mayor of London has told the prime minister.

Sadiq Khan met staff from the UNIQLO, Selfridges & Co, and staff from Lebanese restaurant Lazeez yesterday (Thursday), where he was photographed promoting his “save the West End” plan.

Central London is reeling from the pandemic which has stopped tourism and also left shoppers and revellers still wary of going into town.

In a letter to Boris Johnson, Sadiq Khan said the West End had “contributed more to the country than it had taken out” and that there was an “overwhelming” case for a special bailout.

Further rates and rent relief was required for businesses but also a “direct financial aid scheme” for the hospitality, retail and cultural industry sectors. The financial support for self-employed workers needed to be extended.

The mayor said: “As you know, the centre of London is the UK’s economic and cultural powerhouse, and a gateway for global tourism and investment into the rest of the UK. It has contributed to the UK far more than it has taken out, and while I support efforts to grow the prosperity of all parts of the country, this will not happen if as a country we abandon our most dynamic and productive commercial hub to decline.”

He added: “The economic case for protecting these businesses is overwhelming.”

While business is picking up in restaurants and pubs in some residential neighbourhoods of inner London, much of West End still feels like a ghost town. With socialising at an all-time low, few people outside of Westminster are venturing out of their immediate area.

The mayor’s letter suggests that one of the main problems is “lack of confidence” in busy areas, adding that face-coverings should be made compulsory in “the busiest public spaces”.

His other ideas include “facilitate negotiations between landlords and tenants in cases where rent is in arrears” and investing more heavily in test and trace. The mayor said: “Until we have an operational vaccine in place social distancing will have to continue to protect people’s health and, with employers planning to continue home-working well into next year, the numbers of people visiting the West End will be reduced for many months ahead.

The New West End Company is backing the mayor’s plans to help the West End recover.

And Westminster Council leader Rachael Roba­than responded to the mayor’s visit, saying: “Encouraging to see Sadiq Khan visiting the West End to see the work being done by Westminster Council to help businesses, restaurants and shops recover. The big stumbling block is confidence around public transport – tube use down by more than 80 per cent at Oxford Circus and Piccadilly/Victoria even worse”.

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