Bosses joined the Mayor of London on Friday in a last-minute plea for the Government to extend a business rates holiday, as job cuts and a potential second lockdown loomed.
Businesses say up to 50,000 jobs in the West End alone are at risk if more rates help is not given.
The lobbying push came on deadline day for submissions to the first phase of the Government’s review of business rates. Bosses said the business rates holiday, launched to help the High Street ride out the virus crisis and due to expire next March, must be extended.
Mayor Sadiq Khan wants to see one year more of support and a long-term reform. He said: “Businesses across London continue to struggle from the impact of Covid-19. If the business rates holiday comes to an end I worry many employers will have no choice but to make more people unemployed.”
Data from the Office for National Statistics today showed growth on the High Street, but also a feeling that the recovery could be running out of steam.
The ONS said retail sales were up 0.8% from July to August. That is the fourth month running of improvement.
But George Brown at Investec said: “This could be as good as it gets for retailers this year. Sales have been supported by the accumulation of pent-up demand over lockdown, but also as the Government’s furlough scheme has helped to contain the number of job losses. Spending looks set to moderate over the coming months, particularly with unemployment on the rise.”
Central London firms have suffered as tourists and office workers stay away. Hospitality and retail firms are worried about fresh reports that new national restrictions could be introduced as the Government tries to tackle the rising rates of infection.
Patrick Dardis, chief executive of pub group Young’s, said rates are a “punishment for businesses that want to invest in growth and people”.
Helen Brocklebank at luxury goods association Walpole said an extension of the holiday was “crucial for the survival of many of Britain’s most iconic luxury retailers”.
Jace Tyrrell at lobby group New West End Company said: “The reintroduction of business rates in April 2021 will be a final blow for many businesses already struggling to meet costs as they await the return of international and domestic visitors and larger numbers of people back in their offices.
The result will be more business closures and potentially 50,000 job losses, severely diminishing London’s appeal to visitors, investors and global talent. We appreciate the support that the Government has given to businesses so far but it is clear that the impact of Covid-19 is going to last much longer than originally anticipated."
Jerry Schurder, head of business rates at property consultancy Gerald Eve said: “Having seen poor footfall in central London due mainly to limited return to office use, and fearful of a second lockdown, London’s businesses are hugely concerned that without an extension of the holiday many more outlets will simply be unable to continue to trade."