London has withstood four unique events in 14 years: the banking crisis of 2008-2009, Brexit, the pandemic and now the Russian war in Ukraine, with the resulting rise in energy prices and inflation. In addition, we have the challenge of climate change.
Nevertheless, Travers is overall optimistic. “London is resilient. He survived so much,” he says, referring to the list of plagues, fires and the Blitz that London has overcome.
But with a growing population and a high concentration of poor households, London’s boroughs are under increasing pressure. According to Travers, most now spend 20% less on their services in real terms than they did in 2010.
“If you look at the services they’ve had to prioritise, like social care for children and the elderly, the amount of money that’s then left over for everything else, including street cleaning, street lighting, all the things we see just outside our homes and offices, that spending on neighborhood services has dropped 40-50%,” says Travers.
He points out that this is unsustainable and a big problem for central London: “Trying to keep the streets clean, decent and safe, after 12 years of austerity, is very difficult. I think this case needs to be presented much more convincingly by policy makers and the private sector.
This brings us to the role of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). I first met Travers over 20 years ago on Patricia Brown’s study trip to New York to see if BIDs could work in the UK.
Originally, BID services were intended to be complementary. As Travers puts it, it was “absolutely axiomatic” that anything the BIDs did, whether it was cleaning streets, providing new paving or better lighting, would be in addition to what the government was doing.
“Now, particularly in inner cities and central London, because of the funding cuts that the national government has determined, unless the BIDs do some of these things, the boroughs cannot afford to provide the level of service required.”
Without the BIDs, by raising funds through the BID tax and spending them locally, the quality of our streets and cityscape would be worse. Travers adds: ‘The BIDs will be very, very important in helping central London and other city centers in London not just survive, but actually rebuild.’
We will look to the BIDs to bring much-needed seasonal joy in what promises to be a gloomy winter. The New West End Company supplies the stunning West End Christmas lights (pictured), now imitated by other BIDs. It remains to be seen whether these will be threatened due to the energy crisis.
It’s time to work together
West End Company’s new managing director, tireless West End cheerleader Jace Tyrrell, is soon leaving London for Australia. He tells me, “Headwinds aren’t pretty, but if there was ever a time to work together, it was during Covid and the immediate period ahead with this impending crisis in energy and the cost of the life that sweeps the world.”
The City Corporation will be key to rebuilding central London. Its “Destination City” initiative aims to promote entry into the city with a leisure offer 7 days a week anchored in the identity of the city. This is important, as changes in post-lockdown office work patterns are affecting London’s business ecosystem.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is an additional voice to defend London. Together with the City Corporation and the 32 boroughs of London, he supports Opportunity London, a new campaign to increase investment in post-Brexit London.
These initiatives, along with BIDs and other public and private sector collaborations, will play a crucial role in improving the London experience, encouraging people to return and ensuring that London remains a city of world class.
Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya. To listen to the Propertyshe podcast with Tony Travers in its entirety, please visit apple.co/3wWXX6g