Boris Johnson has been urged to guarantee an extension to the business rates holiday now to help ensure the survival of firms hard-hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
It is among a raft of measures being called for by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in a letter to the prime minister, including a targeted continuation of the furlough scheme for sectors struggling in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
With a view to increasing public confidence during the coronavirus emergency, he also said the government should look at making face coverings compulsory in the busiest areas, as has happened in Paris.
Mr Khan warned businesses in the capital faced a “perfect storm” of continued home working, a collapse in domestic and international tourism and the need for social distancing.
London’s West End has forecast it will lose more than £5bn in retail sales this year, with a third of shop and hospitality workers – more than 5,000 people – facing the threat of redundancy.
While Mr Khan said he had provided support to businesses through direct financial support and ensuring the transport network was running almost a full service, he argued central London needed a “targeted and sustained financial and fiscal support from the government in order to survive”.
He said the financial case for safeguarding the businesses was “overwhelming” with London’s economy accounting for a quarter of the UK’s total economic output and contributing a net £38.7bn to the Treasury.
Pressing for an extension to the business rates holiday, which is due to end in March, he pointed out many large retail, leisure and hospitality businesses were making key decisions for next year in the coming weeks, so certainty was urgently needed.
Mr Khan also stressed the need for the job retention furlough scheme, due to close at the end of October, to continue for retail, hospitality, leisure, and creative businesses that would struggle to recover because of social distancing rules.
Mr Khan told Sky News’ Ian King Live programme that London’s West End contributed “hugely to the country’s prosperity”, but now faced an “existential threat” from the COVID-19 crisis.
He said: “We face a perfect storm in the West End from people working from home, people social distancing, a lack of public confident, but also the collapse of domestic and international tourism.”
Calling for a targeted financial support package, he said: “It’s really important we do it now, not wait for these jobs to be lost.”
Mr Khan also defended increasing the congestion charge to £15 a day, arguing it had been a “condition” to secure government support to keep Transport for London running.
He said: “What we can’t afford to have in London is a car-led recovery.
“That would be bad for our city because even a small increase in traffic will lead to our city grinding to a halt but also lead to air quality getting worse.”