Evening Standard Comment: Ministers must focus on what really matters

·2-min read
 (Christian Adams)
(Christian Adams)

The run-up to Christmas is a crucial period for London’s shops, pubs and restaurants. Moreover, after 20 months of Covid-19 and intermittent lockdowns, the capital’s businesses are more reliant than ever on a strong seasonal trade .

But as we report in today’s newspaper, with 50 days to go until Christmas, new data reveals the scale of the threat to central London firms as a result of the twin impact of working from home and the fall in foreign tourism.

Early forecasts project that total festive spending is set to be less than half of pre-pandemic levels, costing the West End economy more than £1.2billion. That is in spite of the steady rise in footfall since the end of school summer holidays in September.

Business leaders are asking Londoners to “play their part” in taking the time to do a bit of shopping, grab a bite to eat or take in a show. Surely a small sacrifice to ensure London’s gastronomic and cultural attractions can thrive in what we hope will soon be a post-pandemic world.

Yet the Government is not making this any easier. Not only in its decision to end the tax-free perk for foreign tourists visiting the capital, which has been seized upon by Paris to encourage high-spenders to visit there instead. But also in its general demeanour.

The Bank of England, which voted to hold interest rates at 0.1 per cent yesterday, forecasts inflation next year to hit 5 per cent. At the same time as the public is understandably concerned about the cost of living and shortages, the Prime Minister has shown a serious lack of judgement in defending — before U-turning over — the Owen Paterson case.

Voters will understandably want to see a government that is gripping the economic situation, not getting sidetracked by overturning the decisions of the Committee on Standards, which adjudged that Paterson had clearly breached the rules.

And all the while, ministers continue to sabre rattle with the EU over fish and threaten to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol, where further misjudgement could have a significant impact on the wider UK economy.

With rising inflation, the lingering impacts of Covid on our city and Glasgow hosting the COP26 climate conference, the Government should be focusing on addressing the issues most important to workers and businesses, not turning inward on itself.

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