London businesses want ‘clarity’ on new restrictions after weekend slump in trade

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Business chiefs have called on Boris Johnson to give firms certainty amid fears that even tougher Covid-19 restrictions could be brought in.

The introduction of Plan B measures has already left many of London’s pubs, restaurants and shops battling for survival. Some businesses are also struggling with staff shortages as workers fall sick or are forced to self isolate.

The Natural History Museum said it will close its South Kensington site from Tuesday until December 28 because of staff shortages, although the ice rink will operate as scheduled.

Footfall in the West End at the weekend was down 17 per cent compared with the same pre-Christmas weekend in 2019, before the pandemic.

Across the week from December 13, footfall was down nearly a third year-on-year compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the New West End Company, which represents hospitality and retail companies.

The drop in trade caused by the surge in Omicron cases has led to calls for further support from Chancellor Rishi Sunak. Business leaders today also demanded clarity on any new rules.

John Dickie, chief executive of London First, said: “There is much speculation that the Government is considering new restrictions — it must now communicate as soon as possible the trigger point and exactly what this will entail, so that businesses can plan ahead.”

Jace Tyrell, chief executive of New West End Company, added: “With less than five days to go until Christmas Day and the probabilities of a circuit-breaker lockdown increasingly on the horizon, the retail and leisure sector is now facing a huge amount of financial uncertainty when it should be enjoying a much needed shot in the arm.”

Meanwhile daytime Tube travel on Saturday slumped to 51 per cent of “normal demand” while the picture on Saturday night was even worse with the number of journeys on the Central line at 15 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, told Times Radio: “We certainly don’t want to see any further restrictions at the moment because it would actually have an even more dramatic effect on those businesses that are already struggling.”

Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation, said: “If you are in central London you are in trouble and you need help very very quickly. We would ask for as much clarity as government can give on the roadmap out and also to look carefully at how the economy can continue to function.”

Mayor Sadiq Khan, who declared a “major incident” in London on Saturday as Covid cases continued to rise, said the Chancellor needed to “urgently step forward” with a rescue package.

Business groups are asking for the discounted 12.5 per cent VAT rate to be extended beyond its scheduled end in March, and for business rates due in the first quarter of next year to be deferred.

Asked today about what hope he could offer firms struggling with the impact the Omicron, Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said “The Chancellor keeps it constantly under review”, adding that ministers were “very mindful of all those sectors that are suffering”.

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