In the aftermath of the Budget, the country has a way ahead – or at least a flight path from which we can start to survey the economic wreckage caused by months of lockdown.
The extension to the business rates holiday is welcome and something I have long campaigned for. In Westminster, we have 39,000 businesses, and many have been clinging on by their fingertips. They need breathing space to clamber back up.
Throughout the pandemic, the council has concentrated on looking after the most vulnerable among our 250,000 residents while doing what we can to help businesses.
Hospitality is one of our biggest industries – employing around 80,000 people – and we were the first council in the UK to put in place temporary outdoor dining areas to keep the tables turning. In the colder months we brought out the umbrellas and heaters so our residents and visitors could at least pretend it was still summer. Hundreds of restaurants have benefited from around 60 new al fresco dining areas and we will build on the success of this scheme.
“Lifting central London out of economic lockdown is the new pillar of City for All, the council’s 10-year corporate vision.”
Lifting central London out of economic lockdown is the new pillar of City for All, the council’s 10-year corporate vision. The West End is an engine of the UK economy – one in 10 London jobs is generated by the West End – but that engine is faltering. Footfall is 92 per cent down and tube travel by a similar figure. That bleak picture is compounded by well-known retailers cutting their high street presence with some decamping to the internet.
But I’m confident we can rebuild our city. For example, our Oxford Street District improvement plan, recently announced, is a visionary scheme to overhaul one of our iconic locations, generating jobs for local people and creating more open space.
There’s no business like show business and, sadly, there’s been no business for months for theatres and galleries. But get ready for Inside Out, a major outdoor art show which launches later in the year involving the most famous names in art and theatre. It will be a powerful curtain raiser to remind everyone why millions come from across the world to enjoy our portraits and performers.
Our residents and businesses have shown incredible resolve throughout lockdown, and we owe it to them to give them their city back. As Samuel Johnson famously said: “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.’ And life is what Westminster council is determined to restore.
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