Mayor announces £5m plan to support safe reopening of Central London

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has announced proposals to invest £5m to support the eventual reopening of central London, including a brand-new drive to attract visitors – including Londoners and tourists from the rest of the UK –back to hard-hit retail, hospitality and cultural venues

Sadiq has vowed to do all he possibly can to power London’s economic recovery from Covid-19. He believes that the safe reopening of Central London will be fundamental to the long-term future prosperity of the capital.

London has always benefitted from huge levels of both domestic and international tourism – but that has virtually dried up due to the pandemic. Recent analysis showed that over the course of 2020 visitors from overseas and the rest of the UK spent nearly £11 billion less than in 2019.

The Mayor wants domestic tourism to be at the heart of London’s drive to ‘build back better’ and will relentlessly focus on putting jobs and the economy at the heart of post-pandemic planning, taking his inspiration from Britain’s recovery after the second world war.

Through this proposed new investment he will work with key partners, including London’s trade, investment and promotion agency, London and Partners, which the Mayor funds, as the path out of lockdown becomes clearer. Working with the business community, new initiatives will be developed to encourage Londoners and tourists from around the UK back into central London. Proposals are likely to include major events that showcase central London’s public spaces and cultural riches.

The Mayor has announced this new funding as he published his final Budget for the Greater London Authority (GLA) Group for 2021-22. The final Budget takes into account that council tax and business rates returns from local authorities are higher than were forecast in the Mayor’s draft Budget proposals last year. 

Although this is welcome news, the GLA Group Budget is still shaped by a significant reduction in the financial resources available to the Mayor and proposes savings of £186m for 2021-22 that are necessary due to the cost of the pandemic and the fact that Government will not fully invest in the capital’s recovery.

Tackling crime is the Mayor’s top priority and yesterday he announced his intention to invest a further £30 million – bringing his investment in policing since being elected to £1.08 billion – to ensure that more than a thousand Met police officers funded by City Hall will continue to patrol the streets of the capital for the next four years. 

He is also proposing to invest a further £8m of new council tax funding in additional violence prevention programmes – as part of a package that is both tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. 

The increase council tax and business rates returns means that the Mayor is also proposing to invest an additional £15m in the London Fire Brigade, protecting its funding for the year ahead.

Sadiq has repeatedly warned that unless the Government urgently comes forward with a significant financial package, major cuts will be inevitable across all Mayoral organisations. These cuts would damage public services and significantly hamper London’s ability to drive the economic recovery that is desperately needed.

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: 

I am determined to do everything I can to help our great city recover as quickly as possible from this appalling pandemic.

Crucial to that will be the safe reopening of central London and attracting Londoners and domestic visitors back to our amazing restaurants, pubs, cultural venues and of course our major shopping districts like Oxford and Regent Street and Covent Garden. 

London has always been one of the most visited cities in the world and my proposed investment will help to support central London as it begins to recover. 

In the longer term, we look forward to welcoming international visitors back once again and I have called upon the Government to fund a major international tourism campaign with London as the gateway to the UK.

Although there is light at the end of the tunnel with the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines, the GLA Group budgets remain in a precarious position. While we have received higher than expected council tax and business rates returns, unless the Government fully invests in the capital, there is no doubt that I will need to cut vital services, which will in turn hamper our recovery.

The Budget confirms no changes to the council tax proposals that the Mayor announced earlier this year.

Sadiq is particularly concerned that London’s global business, commercial and cultural centre, known as the Central Activities Zone (CAZ), faces a bigger challenge than its counterparts in many other major cities such as New York and Paris, due to much lower numbers of people living in the heart of the city and our greater reliance on visitors, including tourists and workers.

Earlier this month, he published a report from Arup with Gerald Eve and the London School of Economics that concluded that, while central London is well placed to recover strongly with the right policies in place, there is particular concern regarding the future of London’s arts and cultural sectors and the retail sector.

City Hall analysis of forecasts by VisitBritain showed that consumer spending in central London by overseas tourists was £7.4 billion lower throughout 2020, while domestic tourists will have spent £3.5 billion less, and commuters £1.9 billion less in 2020 than in the previous year.

Sadiq has already launched a range of initiatives that aim to support employment and the wider economy.

These include supporting hundreds of small companies through his Back to Business Fund and Pay It Forward London scheme, through which Londoners can buy goods and services in advance from their favourite local and independent businesses struggling with the challenges of Covid-19.

The Mayor has also allocated £2.3 million for a Culture at Risk fund to help some of London’s most imperilled creative and night-time businesses, such as cinemas and music venues.

Kate Nicholls, Chief Executive at UK Hospitality, said: 

We very much welcome the Mayor’s focus prioritising hospitality and tourism as the key to London’s recovery. Our world class hotels, bars, restaurant and clubs are critical to London not just economically but also socially and culturally. The announcement of significant support to market our tourist sector will be key to boosting consumer and business confidence ahead of a swift, safe and sustainable reopening and a more rapid recovery. We look forward to working with the Mayor and other partners to deliver this and welcome back our teams, our guest and our international visitors in due course.

Simon Pitkeathley, Chief Executive at Camden Town Unlimited, said:

This funding from the Mayor is extremely welcome.  Many of London’s small businesses may be living off fumes, but we’re ready, willing and able to do our bit to fight for London’s recovery, and support such as this gives us heart.  There’s still plenty to do to make sure we get the messaging right and that people feel ‘safe,’ in every sense of the word, when they can return to central areas. But, so long as we don’t do the ‘hokey cokey’ and have to close again, I can’t wait to see people out and about and loving our amazing city once again.

Bernard Donoghue, Director at ALVA – The Association of Leading Visitor Attractions, said: 

We warmly welcome this announcement of significant support for the recovery of London’s visitor economy. Tourism is one of London’s largest and most economically significant sectors, and we need our cultural attractions, theatres, pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels to reopen safely and sustainably to welcome back domestic and inbound visitors. 

We have worked closely with the Mayor and backed all of his asks of Government for the right policy and financial support, so we are delighted that he’s investing in making London more welcoming, more open and more sustainable than ever before.

Sir Peter Rogers, Chairman of New West End Company said: 

We welcome the Mayor’s support and financial commitment for the recovery of central London and in particular the West End.  Support is vital for our businesses, if they are to recover and thrive.

We now need to see a similar level of commitment from central Government to avoid further closures and job losses.  We need an extension of the business rates holiday, along with measures to promote international visitors in due course.  We need the Government to reconsider its decision to remove tax free shopping. Anything less, is economic self-harm to the Exchequer, given the taxation that flows from a successful central London.

Correct as of 17 February 2021