If London goes back into Tier 2 rules when national lockdown ends it will be “catastrophic” for the West End, business leaders have warned.
England is beginning a month long lockdown with restaurants, pubs and non-essential shops shutting their doors to customers.
The rules are due to lift on Wednesday December 2: Boris Johnson insists restrictions will ease after a month, but senior cabinet minister Michael Gove has warned the lockdown could be extended.
While the circuit breaker may end in time for Christmas, it will cut into the busiest period of the year for shops and restaurants – the so-called ‘golden quarter’.
Even before the pandemic, firms relied on the run up to Christmas to boost profits: hospitality businesses make 40% of their annual income between Halloween and New Year, according to the industry trade body.
But now London’s West End – the shopping, dining and theatre heart of the city – faces uncertainty, even as it reels from the first wave of coronavirus.
Footfall in shops never recovered above half of normal levels, even as other cities and London suburbs bounced back to 70%.
The district, which normally turns over £10 billion a year, expected that figure to drop 80% to £2 billion before the second lockdown was announced.
And New West End Company chief executive Jace Tyrell told the London Assembly that figure would drop to £1.5 billion under new rules.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UK Hospitality, told the the Assembly’s economy committee that central London must be in Tier 1 local rules when the circuit breaker ends.
“London is believed to be self-healing and be able to promote itself,” she said, “but at this point in time we cannot.”
City centre businesses have already been suffering under local restrictions, Ms Nicholls warned.
“That move from the rule of six to no mixed households killed London hospitality overnight,” she said. “The move into Tier 2 was really catastrophic.”
If the capital exits national lockdown only to be vaulted back into Tier 2 or 3 there will be “no point” reopening restaurants in the West End, Ms Nicholls added.
“We will have a mass job losses and we will lose viable businesses,” she said.
“You’ve not saved those jobs that are earmarked for redundancy because the longer this goes on the more likely they are to be made redundant at the end.”
Paul Fleming, general secretary of performers’ union Equity, said theatres would struggle without cash from pantos, and whole businesses could be mothballed to weather the storm.
“There is a very real risk that you will lose West End theatres to opening live productions for years to come,” he warned.
Meanwhile retail leaders said high street shops are rushing to get stock back into warehouses, after Christmas shopping plans were put on hold.
Despite the financial challenges businesses face, Mr Tyrell predicted sales in January.
“There’s so much stock that needs to be cleared,” he explained.
“Whether they clear that stock or not in the next couple of months is whether they’re going to be viable next year. It’s that fragile at the moment.”
But Dominic Curran, a policy advisor for the British Retail Consortium, painted a bleaker picture: “Frankly, there are going to be closing down sales.”