By Paul Drechsler CBE, Chair – London First
One of my happiest memories is my first ever visit to London in 1969 as a young boy, with my father. I remember like it was yesterday: the energy, vitality and vibrancy of Carnaby Street. Psychedelic, rock & roll, loud, buzzing. Big red buses, Madame Tussaud’s, London Zoo and Hamley’s – fantastic!
I’d never forgotten the thrill of that first visit and today I love The Royal Albert Hall (especially with Eric Clapton), Fortnum & Masons, a Red Bus Tour, or a trip from Westminster to Greenwich on a riverboat, a night at the O2. So many great restaurants: Zafferano, Pont de la Tour, Hunan, Benares, stop, too many.
But above all it’s the adjectives the capital conjures and evokes: lively, loud, diverse, energetic, fantastic, beautiful, special, artistic, good, better, best. To my mind, it is the best capital city in the world, honestly. Of course, you might expect me to say that as chair of the business campaign group London First but this I hold to be true.
Listen; where else can you find a great river, outstanding architecture, six international airports, 1,000 cinema screens, 170 museums, 300 nightclubs and 3,500 pubs? Did I mention 13 million people from Trafalgar Square to the commuter belt; 380,000 students; 40 universities, the world centre for the language of business, but with 230 other spoken languages. London is the ultimate melting pot, bubbling over with excitement.
Or, should I say it was. The pandemic has affected each of those statistics. And without concerted action from Government there is no guarantee that all will return. There is a deep rooted belief that we will recover, we always have from (many) previous disasters. Is history enough to secure our return to great on all fronts?
I suggest not. But with expectation, ambition, commitment and a plan, we can ensure London emerges from the pandemic renewed, restored and raring to go . The fundamental question is not ‘will London recover but how quickly will it return to 2019 economic levels of activity.
I am certain that hope and expectation will not be enough. A bold, ambitious and heavily fuelled plan championed by enthusiastic, committed and aligned leaders from all levels of Government and the private sector will be vital ingredients.
Our main focus has to be on footfall; getting people back to workplaces, out in pubs, bars and restaurants – domestically first and then tourists. International visitors are a big part of our economy, spending five times more than others who venture into the city.
The other key ingredients for accelerating London’s return are as follows:
First and foremost a high functioning transport system in which people have high confidence in terms of safety.
Next is magnetism – to communicate the reasons, the excitement and the attraction of life in workplace and life in London. Each and every leader has a role to play here; to develop and communicate their story; ‘why it’s great to be back in the office’.
Add to that, the sizzle and excitement that comes from our great hospitality, theatres, museums, pubs, clubs and live events. There are lots of great reasons to visit our Capital.
The best, of course, is the joy of being with other people, interesting people, fun people from many different countries – every country. London’s diversity is its greatest source of creativity, innovation and competitive advantage. This is our third priority for action – fast matching people and their skills with the future opportunities to avoid a lost generation being locked out of the jobs market.
Just before I finish, let’s not forget that London represents about 25% of the whole UK economy and generates a tax surplus of £39 billion. Its recovery will underpin the whole of the UK’s recovery. Now that’s worth fighting for!