The owner of St. John restaurant, Trevor Gulliver has written a second open letter to policymakers outlining what he and dozens of co-signatories from the London restaurant world feel needs to be done in order to help them recover from the multifarious effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Writing to the Mayor Sadiq Khan, Gulliver implores the mayor to “Campaign Until Christmas,” adding that “London Town, the driver for all that makes the greater city great, is at a critical point. It fails and the whole city fails, you have not been a source of support in this fight.”
The letter is signed by the likes of Yotam Ottolenghi, Angela Hartnett, the owners of JKS Restaurants, Lyle’s, The Clove Club, and countless others referred to by Gulliver as “the who’s who,” It outlines four areas in which those from the restaurant believe policymakers can aid the recovery of its industry: Public support from the mayor, promote the organisation (and safety) of restaurants, drop the congestion charge, and push for confidence in public transport.
But Gulliver also pours scorn on what he believes to be political agendas between the Labour Mayor’s office and the Tory government which have led to undemocratic policies. “We are, like many, aware of the ongoing battles between City Hall and Westminster, however now our concern is City Hall and, as some might suggest, its undemocratic policies guided by a cabal of people with particular agendas,” he said. “All this is not helpful and we only ask for a few things.”
In an email to Eater, Gulliver did not elaborate on who specifically he deemed to be part of the “cabal” was but said the animosity between City Hall [the Mayor’s office] and Downing Street [the government] is no secret,” pointing to a political mess he’d observed over recent months. “The politicians refused to engage with the people directly...the outcome was that we as a city looked daft, not focused, not together and not working for the common good.” He added that this was significant as businesses like his and those of the co-signatories were trying to plan for the future. “The virus is a fact and life must operate around that fact, sending out the message that when this is over, come to London, we are waiting. This has not happened — how strange, how stupid.”
The letter asks Khan personally to get out “on the stump...and shout out for London Town...one of the great destinations of the world.” The letter emphasises the urgency: “The pandemic will end and the recession will deepen, start getting those messages out there, that we’ll be ready and waiting to entertain and delight.”
Gulliver clarified his expectations to Eater: “The Mayor should have been on the stump for London safely, every day, cheerleading, encouraging, explaining, cajoling every day, it is time for champions... the city is bleeding and our Mayor was receding.”
In addition, the Mayor should build confidence among Londoners, and communicate that restaurants in London are organised and ready for their return, the letter says: “Legislate where necessary, apply the rules that will bring confidence and customers.”
Specifically on that legislation, Gulliver told Eater that he wanted “simple rules” and clarity in order to counter the general sense of uncertainty faced by businesses.
“If you must wear a face mask on public transport, enforce that, fine people; if restaurants, bars, theatres, museums etc. have to follow various protocols and procedures, enforce that. People need confidence,” he said. “If operators flout or ignore the rules — close them, we are all happy to see this, and don’t confuse a socially distanced jazz trio with a mosh pit. Have a [communications] agency that has the power to say ‘Great, you passed, open, get on with what you do and make us happy!’”
In the letter, Gulliver then turns the focus to the congestion charge increase, which other restaurateurs have claimed is hampering the ability of Londoners to travel into the city and damaging business. “The air is the cleanest it has been for years, let people enjoy it. Face up to it, there are effectively NO TOURISTS, NO VISITORS, VERY LOW WORKPLACE NUMBERS...OUR GREAT SHOPPING STREETS, CHINATOWN AND MORE, ALL RUNNING ON EMPTY,” it says with capitals-for-emphasis. “You [the Mayor] can change this or importantly drive the process of change to be ready when the time comes. But let’s start now! You can make a virtue out of the change of policy.”
The congestion charge was increased as part of the government’s bailout of the London transport network in May, part of what Gulliver suggests to have be skullduggerous. Operators, nonetheless, are fixed on the importance of the congestion charge because confidence among Londoners to use public transport is low. The letter expresses similar dissatisfaction with the way that has been handled. “Our transport system is arguably the best of the world’s great cities, that you [Khan] seem to have no wish to use or celebrate this as a route to recovery seems a dereliction of responsibility,” it says.
Last week, Khan endorsed a new Transport for London (TFL) app designed for COVID-19 secure route planning, but Gulliver says that should have been done months ago and he wants to see more. He told Eater. “We need more than this. Plenty of ideas, ‘odds and evens’ travel days for different part of the public by surname letter maybe.” He added that this would be “great for weaning folk off ‘working-from-home’ or furlough” and that free masks should be issued at bus and train stations. “No mask, no travel, more trains and longer trains, earlier starts and later finishes, cheaper pricing.”
The letter closes with an analogy: “London Town lies at the heart of the greater City. It dies, the rest follows. The core of our particular apple must be saved before it is too late. Please come out, open the gate and tend the orchard!”