Walpole Comment | ‘Saving Central London’

The Covid-19 pandemic is having a catastrophic impact on London, Britain’s economic power house. As the capital faces its biggest crisis in generations, Walpole’s Chief Executive Helen Brocklebank talked to Jonathan Prynn from the Evening Standard in advance of the launch of their campaign ‘Saving Central London’. With Walpole members reporting that they are only seeing 5-10% of their normal volume, Helen sets out a number of specific measures which must be implemented by government and the Mayor of London to support London-based luxury goods businesses and the longtail of jobs that they support throughout the country.

The strength of London as a cultural capital has been profoundly compromised by the COVID-19 crisis and many Walpole members are anticipating being worse hit in London than in any of their other markets. If the UK is to speed back to recovery, we urgently need to see a boost in support for the Capital.

“London isn’t only the country’s shop window for luxury, it’s the world’s number one luxury destination: its unique blend of high-end retail, art galleries, auction houses, theatres, restaurants and hotels as well as its history and heritage create a rich cultural and civic eco-system unrivalled anywhere else in the world. British luxury brands – of which many are SME’s – are worth £48 billion to the UK economy, contribute strongly to the Exchequer, and encourage visitors to the UK to spend around £4.5 billion here each year. Crucially these brands’ success in London supports more than 160,000 highly skilled jobs throughout the whole country. Bain & Company predicts contractions of between 25% to 35% for the UK luxury sector as a whole. The strength of London as a cultural capital has been profoundly compromised by the COVID-19 crisis and many Walpole members are anticipating being worse hit in London than in any of their other markets. If the UK is to speed back to recovery, we urgently need to see a boost in support for the Capital.

The Chancellor’s recent fiscal packages – not least support for jobs and help for hospitality and tourism – are hugely welcomed by Walpole, but without a boost for the retail sector – suffering from low consumer confidence and greatly reduced footfall – recovery will be delayed and have an otherwise avoidable impact on employment. In addition, we need a package of measures tailored to support London’s retail, hospitality and cultural businesses. Changes to the congestion charge, albeit temporary ones; increased parking; the extension of Sunday trading hours; the digitisation of the tax refund system for international visitors and offering tax-free shopping to visitors from the EU would be progressive and positive steps. Clarification of GDPR requirements, specifically around temperature checks, would ensure visitors have a uniform experience in all hotels and restaurants.

Above all, shoppers and visitors need to feel they can enjoy London with complete confidence and the government urgently needs to restore the reputation of the UK as a safe place to visit.

Walpole member brands – which include iconic London based brands like Burberry, Harrods, dunhill, Claridges, The Savoy and Fortnum & Mason – are passionately committed to playing their part in the recovery. The government, and importantly, The Mayor’s office, have a role to play in helping them help themselves to rebuild the fortunes of London, and protect jobs in the UK as a whole”

Please go here to read the Evening Standard’s ‘Saving Central London’ investigation

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