Yesterday’s open letter signed by prominent central London chefs and restaurateurs warning that they are opening to a “ghost town” this weekend has now been bolstered by a 10-point plan calling for London-specific “support and action.” It has been sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, as well as the lord mayors of central London’s two largest jurisdictions, Westminster and the City of London.
“The government’s message is a confusing one. The dithering is not helping the economy get back on its feet, and it is not instilling confidence in the public to visit... hotels, restaurants and bars that we are so proud of and that makes London the greatest of capitals,” the letter claims.
The letter goes on to outline its concerns that restaurants — and with them, “millions of jobs” — will not survive without tourism. With many central London attractions and events spaces still closed, and many people still working from home and not from offices, its signatories, including St. John’s Trevor Gulliver, Murano’s Angela Hartnett, Dumplings Legend’s Geof Leong, and the owner of Soho House say that the city is currently inhospitable to reopening.
The letter calls for action in 10 areas, outlined below:
- “Clear and succinct messaging from the government” — Mimicking government guidance, it says it should encourage everyone to “Be alert, stay safe but return to the workplace and return to London’s city centre” and that officials should lead the way. “It is either safe or it isn’t,” it says. (This is the bind the government finds itself in: there is known risk in reopening, but pressure from business has forced its sanctioning, with a transferral of most of the responsibility over safety to individual operators. In other words, the government is not going to be unequivocal on this question.)
- “Encourage U.K. tourism: encourage families from around the U.K. to come to central London.”
- Scrap the 14-day quarantine policy and instead “test those entering the country” at all airports, stations, and ports.
- Employ furloughed or redundant workers to become “Beat the Virus Guides” and place them throughout Westminster and the City to handout free face masks.
- Take advantage of availability and “promote London’s greatest hotels while they offer the lowest rates”
- Introduce new cycle routes, both permanent temporary ones for the next three months to “encourage travel into the centre.”
- As noted yesterday, suspend plans to increase the central London congestion charge, and offer further parking facilities.
- Increase services on public transport and lower prices to incentivise Londoners to start travelling again.
- Visibility of elected officials: “London Mayors – we want to see you! Support your city and encourage it back to life. Get together on the platform, put aside your differences! Invite great Londoners to join you!” the letter says.
- Tax cuts or suspend increases: “Government – don’t sit on the fence about VAT rates, make your mind up on this,” it says. It adds that policymakers should not continue to offer false hope.
It is clear from this letter that a large number of operators, especially those in central London, do not view this coming Saturday as the point at which the restaurant world resumes normal service; it is set to be a long and difficult recovery process, which may not see action on any of these proposals for weeks or months, if at all. Moreover, huge uncertainty remains for a majority in the industry who are set to return, with only 10 days’ notice, from an unprecedented crisis and nearly four months of closure.