Central London told to focus on startups and artists to aid recovery

Oscar Williams-Grut
·Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
·3-min read
City of London skyline across river Thames. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty Images
City of London skyline across river Thames. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA/LightRocket via Getty Images

For decades, central London’s office district has been home to financial services mega corporations like big banks and major insurers.

But the COVID-19 crisis and Brexit is forcing a rethink, as gleaming tower blocks empty out and remote working takes hold.

A major report published on Tuesday with the backing of the City of London Corporation is calling for London’s business district to refocus on startups, small businesses, and flexible working.

“London is today facing major challenges,” said Catherine McGuinness, the City of London Corporation’s policy chair. “Coronavirus, the UK’s exit from the European Union and increasing protectionism across the globe are all threats to the capital’s role as an international business hub.

“We must reimagine London in order to seize the moment and ensure it evolves in response to this new paradigm.”

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The London Recharged report, which was written by consultants Oliver Wyman and building consultancy Arup, recommends retooling the capital’s office space to accommodate different kinds of businesses.

The 35-page report urges London to establish more incubator spaces to attract startups, as well as more flexible and affordable space for smaller businesses — and even artists.

“Though the negative impact of COVID-19 is undeniable, we believe that it presents an opportunity for London and the rest of the UK to proactively shape their futures,” said John Romeo, managing partner at Oliver Wyman.

“London must lean into the global trends shaping the city and embrace the momentum for change that the pandemic has created.”

General view of the City of London as it is still nearly empty, after the lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak, London on October 15, 2020. The Capital is on course for an imminent tightening of coronavirus restrictions, as cases continue to rise in Britain and its response fragments. (Photo by Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
City of London. Photo: Alberto Pezzali/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Other suggestions include a “flexible working” season ticket offered by Transport for London (TfL) and the setting up of funds to support digital adoption and diversity targets for businesses based in London.

The calls for change come as city centres across the country face disaster. Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the director general of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), warned in August that the closure of offices due to COVID-19 would turn city centres into “ghost towns.” Tube usage in the capital is at just 10% of normal levels, according to TfL.

“Implementing these recommendations will underpin the capital’s competitiveness by supporting innovation, improving sustainability and offering greater opportunities to our diverse population,” McGuinness said.

“Business, government, regulators and academics all have a role to play. London must build back better in order to remain fit for the future.”

William Russell, the current Lord Mayor of the City of London, said: “The capital’s success throughout history has been a story of constant reinvention. It is more important than ever that London adapts quickly to today’s challenges so that it remains a place where people want to work, live and visit tomorrow.

“A vibrant London will help to drive our recovery forwards as we work with the rest of the UK.”

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