The fight to save the £54 billion West End economy has stepped up with a series of pleas from Westminster City Council’s leader to the Government.
Rachael Robathan is asking for everything from the extension of business rates holidays to the relaxation of social distancing rules in theatres, as central London continues to suffer from Covid-19 disruption.
The West End is home to 55,000 businesses providing around 754,000 jobs, making Westminster the largest employment centre in the UK. Soho, the theatre district and some of Britain’s most famous clubs and restaurants have been hammered by the virus.
In a letter to Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, Robathan warned: “The West End relies on customers and office workers using public transport but confidence remains extremely low.”
Westminster has a significantly higher GDP than any other London borough, contributing £53.6 billion to the economy. That accounts for 3.2% of the UK total and more than 14% of London’s economic value.
Robathan said: “Positive but pragmatic messaging on the safety and secureness of public transport will be paramount to encouraging tourists and locals to return.”
The leader suggested the Government should “consider how the message on social distancing within offices can be improved to boost numbers further”.
The council wants clearer guidance from the Government on numbers that can go into offices safely.
Robathan also wants people wearing masks to sit next to one another in theatres, as they do on planes, warning: “Current social distancing guidelines mean it is not financially viable for many larger theatres to open, which is a fundamental barrier for this important sector of the West End economy.”
Robathan asked the Government to extend the business rates holiday beyond March 2021.
Jenrick responded: “We recognise the significant work done by Westminster City Council and are working closely with them to support the safe reopening of the West End — one of the most loved parts of the city.”
Jenrick added: “Helping London and other city and town centres to safely reopen for business and leisure is vital to our economic recovery. That’s why we have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to support councils and businesses including the £50 million Reopening the High Street Safely Fund, changing planning rules to make it easier for disused buildings to be repurposed and simplifying the process for pubs and restaurants to secure licences for outdoor seating.”
The letter emerged as think tank Centre for London today set out a recovery plan for the West End. The proposals include introducing “culture vouchers” to encourage audiences back to the theatre following the success of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme.