ondon is surging back. Anyone who has been to the West End can see the city is crowded again. If you feared Covid would do for London, think again: bars, restaurants, theatres are enjoying a roaring trade. The Tube and buses are packed, cycle lanes busy. Cabs, too. One cab driver said to me this week: “Can’t complain, guv, can’t complain.” That’s as good as it gets — he’s well chuffed.
Being in Soho or Covent Garden on a balmy night surrounded by all nationalities feels special. The vibrancy marks London as a great global centre.
It’s not all gangbusters, however. In that list I left out shops and hotels. They’re not as busy as they should be. There are tourists but many are domestic. London still lacks foreign visitors in the same numbers as before. One reason is, we make it more expensive for them to shop here. Stubbornly, the Government refuses to scrap the “tourism tax”, charging 20 per cent sales tax on tourists visiting from outside the EU. But they can go to Paris or Berlin and get the same item for 20 per cent less.
We’ve settled into a pattern for WFH, of Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays in the office, Mondays and Fridays at home. Some areas are feeling it hardest, notably the City and Canary Wharf. Critically, they’re not major evening and weekend destinations, so they’re not experiencing the uplift elsewhere. It’s likely that as employers realise they’re not seeing the same energy as before, that will shift, but we’re not there yet.
There are other problems. Find me a retailer, bar owner, hotelier, restaurateur who has enough staff. The immigration rules must be relaxed to bring back workers who left when Covid hit.
Last week, Sunak opened London Tech Week by declaring Britain to be an “island of innovation”. New figures from London & Partners show London attracted more tech investment than any other global city in the last decade.
Yet while we’re ahead of New York, even San Francisco, in building the economic engine room of the future, our tech leaders are having to struggle with acute skills shortages. Again, immigration rules must be relaxed.
The City too is in danger of slipping as banks move their staff to friendlier regulatory environments.
So there’s a lot to do. But London’s pizzazz has returned. It must be true: even the cabbies say so.
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