The prime minister’s recent declaration that free enterprise holds the key to the nation’s recovery from coronavirus is absolutely correct, but the uncertainty surrounding local lockdowns and government decisions is holding our cities and financial centres back.
I say this as chair of EC Partnership, a new business collective created at a crucial moment for the City of London. We aim to bring together voices from across the Eastern Cluster, including Bishopsgate, Fenchurch Street and Leadenhall Street, to ensure this area remains a world leading destination for visitors, commerce and communities.
We are establishing ourselves in unprecedented times when a global pandemic is leading us to question the role of towns and cities. But it is also a moment to stop and think about the City’s relationship with the people making decisions on its behalf.
For London and other major cities, footfall is the lifeblood of the economy, supporting a complex ecosystem of shops, restaurants, cultural venues and hotels. It is clear that, for now, the virus is here to stay and footfall will not return to pre-pandemic levels for some time.
We need to find new hybrid ways of working to keep the City alive while living safely alongside the virus. It means diversifying the City in terms of the industries it supports and the cultural attractions it offers, to ensure it can weather the storm and come back fighting. Business and city leaders must develop innovative ways of working, to allow staff to collaborate safely and support businesses in their areas.
Cities must be empowered to make safe, pragmatic decisions to support businesses and local economies, working with local authorities and public health experts. Importantly, landlords, business partnerships and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) must be listened to.
By allowing them to create solutions and innovate in the fight against Covid-19, we give businesses and local economies a better chance. Without them we will undermine our recovery and overlook a critical voice in the national effort to fight Covid-19.
The EC Partnership represents more than 4,000 businesses and even pre-Covid we were working with the City Corporation on ambitious plans to enhance this unique part of the Square Mile. This has continued during the crisis. We plan to become a BID in the next 18 months – the largest in the UK, able to invest several millions of pounds a year into the area from the private sector.
This virus will be a long-term challenge to the country and we must focus on collaborative initiatives, where the private sector adds real value to the ease the impact on the public purse.
London is a command centre for the global economy; a £550bn power house accounting for around 25% of national GDP. This cannot be ignored. We can’t simply remain in hibernation. The many opportunities for collaboration across industries must be seized upon to ensure the best chance of recovery.
If the government wants free enterprise to lead this fight, we must have our seat at the table. The City is the very best in enterprise and innovation and can rapidly bring forward solutions and proposals for living safely alongside the virus. It is time to harness this innovation and put it back to work.
Andrew Reynolds is chairman of EC Partnership