London's West End anticipates "muted" final shopping weekend before Christmas
London's West End is braced for a "muted" final weekend of shopping ahead of Christmas as footfall has already slumped following "Plan B" restrictions and surging COVID-19 cases.
Yesterday, footfall was down 7% week-on-week and 32% down on pre-pandemic levels, on what should have been a busy pre-Christmas Thursday shopping day.
New West End Company CEO Jace Tyrrell said that the area, was now expecting a disappointing final few days of trading and joined calls for further support for the hard-hit leisure and hospitality sector.
“Footfall on Thursday, which is traditionally one of the most popular days for festive shopping, dipped by 7% from the previous week and was down by 32% compared to pre-pandemic levels. With rising Covid cases dampening consumer confidence and a planned Tube strike looming on Saturday, we’re anticipating a muted final weekend of Christmas trading at a time when West End businesses should be enjoying a much needed boost.
"The Government must act quickly to provide temporary financial support to leisure businesses across the UK, otherwise we run the risk of further viable businesses closing their doors in the coming months. These businesses have made significant investments into their Christmas plans, and the Treasury must offer support to mitigate cash flow loss at this crucial time to ensure that businesses can bounce back strongly in 2022."
Chancellor Rishi Sunak returned to the UK from California today to meet with business leaders and discuss additional support. It is understood that business leaders urged Sunak to freeze business rates, reduce VAT rates for the sector, and provide targeted support for the most heavily affected parts of the industry.
The Treasury launched a business rates holiday for hospitality, retail and leisure firms during the pandemic but this has been heavily reduced in recent months.
Meanwhile, hospitality VAT has increased to 12.5% from 5% in recent months and is due to return to 20% in April.
Earlier today Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford said nightclubs would be closed in the country from 27 December while shops would be required to reintroduce the 2m social distancing rule. Welsh ministers have promised £61m in support for affected business but have called on the UK Government to do more.