Evening Standard comment: Face up to the true scale of London’s crisis

EVENING STANDARD COMMENT
·3-min read

Today the Evening Standard reveals the scale of the crisis facing London.

It will be felt in lost jobs, failed businesses, empty shops and deserted offices: a crisis of recovery after the first peak of coronavirus has passed, a crisis that is by far the worst in a generation.

As we report, 50,000 jobs could be destroyed in retail, tourism and hospitality this year alone as workers stay at home and tourists do not come. That may be just a fraction of the harm done to our city’s economy and vitality by this disaster.

One economist tells us that the capital may lose £60 billion in output and take five years to recover. That will damage our lives, and hit all of Britain, too, in lower tax revenues, reduced wages and vanished opportunities.

How can we avoid this catastrophe? We need clear leadership, a strong plan, and determination to get London going again, quickly and safely.

So where is that leadership? The ghost town streets of London’s West End and empty towers in the City and Canary Wharf — where just 7,000 out of the 120,000 people who normally work there are travelling in — show the scale of the challenge.

But the response from national and city leaders so far has been confused and weak. One of the best cities on the planet is being scarred deeply by political indecision. We can do better, which is why today the Evening Standard is calling for change.

We need answers to simple questions — is it safe to use the Tube or go to the office?

We need answers, for instance, to simple questions that cities elsewhere are solving. Is it safe to eat in a restaurant, come in to an office or use the Tube?

In Paris, urban life is returning to normal. Here advice from the Government says “stay at home as much as possible... work from home if you can”. That needs to change now.

If it is safe to visit a gym, drink in a pub, swim in an outdoor pool or catch a packed flight to Spain, then working together must be made safe too. After this crisis, the way we work will change — the trend away from commuting five days a week will accelerate.

But keeping this part of London life in lockdown is a calamitous act of self-harm. And what about face masks? The Mayor was right to call for their use early on but the message to the public is still unclear: typically, Downing Street has briefed out confused messages rather than leading openly. Meanwhile, from the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, we need a massively more urgent response to the crisis sweeping through the London economy.

He’s ducked the challenge, happier blaming others for problems rather than leading himself, and he’s never shown much interest in backing business growth.

We need clear practical steps: such as getting people back on public transport, which is busy elsewhere in Europe but still deserted here.

The impressive new boss of Transport for London, Andy Byford, tells us today that he is determined to make it happen. But absurdly, official advice still encourages people to drive — bad for congestion, air quality and long-term health.

Of course in all this we need to stop a second wave of the virus: life cannot return soon to what used to seem normal. That’s why we need grip from those in charge — and a determination from all of us who live in London to make our city work in the face of this hideous challenge. We are so lucky to live in, work in and enjoy one of the most creative, diverse and exciting cities that has ever existed.

We know it will get through this — let’s start London’s revival now.

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Revealed: The true scale of London's economic meltdown