The looming crisis facing cities in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic has been underlined by new data which shows that the number of people on London’s West End shopping streets is still only a third of normal levels.
The figures came as the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, warned that the capital faced an “existential threat” from the pandemic.
Eight weeks after all shops were allowed to reopen in England following a three-month lockdown, footfall in London’s West End remains 63% down on 2019 levels, according to the latest data from New West End Company, which represents 600 businesses across Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Mayfair.
One in 10 Londoners are employed in the West End, and without a boost to consumer confidence, the capital’s premier shopping area is facing job losses of 50,000 and more than £5bn in annual sales, the NWEC warned.
Footfall had been rising slowly in the West End since the reopening of non-essential shops on 15 June, but has now plateaued. Research carried out on behalf of NWEC reveals that the majority of UK consumers are anxious about going on public transport. The West End is also usually a prime destination for overseas tourists, but only a small fraction of the usual tourist numbers are in London this year.
Khan and the deputy mayor, Rajesh Agrawal, met a number of retailers, including representatives from Selfridges, Hackett, Uniqlo, Arcadia and Schuh on Thursday to hear how they have fared during the pandemic.
Khan said: “For decades central London has been the economic engine of the UK, a cultural powerhouse and a gateway for global tourism to the UK. But it now faces a real existential threat from the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Until we have an operational vaccine in place social distancing will have to continue to protect people’s health, and with employers planning to continue home-working well into next year, the numbers of people visiting the West End will be reduced for many months ahead.
“As mayor I’m doing all within my powers to help. This includes providing loans and funding directly to small businesses and ensuring TfL’s unprecedented range of safety and hygiene measures mean more passengers are now able to travel on London’s public transport network.”
With the compulsory use of face masks and the government’s eat out to help out scheme – a half-price meal offer between Monday and Wednesday throughout August – 43% of consumers polled by NWEC say they would be confident in visiting retail stores.
However, only 23% are confident using public transport, such as the underground. While this figure has increased by 5% since the easing of lockdown started in May, 74% of UK consumers surveyed said they were unlikely to visit central London in the next month.
Unemployment across the UK could rise beyond the levels seen in the 1980s, the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted last month – even before official figures showed that Britain is in its worst recession since records began, as the economy shrank by 20.4% in the three months to June, more than any other major economy.