Once upon a time, commuting into London was a necessity for millions. Then, one day in March 2020, it became the preserved activity of a few key workers and a big no-no for everyone else. Well almost everyone, my commute to my WeWork opposite Schroders involved me Boris-biking past St Pauls and under the Barbican high-walk.
Best of times/ worst of times
Now we learn that the deserted streets of the City and the West End will stay that way as around half of businesses have worked out that forcing staff back onto trains and tubes and busses doesn’t make sense – truth is – it never did.
So the worst of times may lead to better times . Unless you are part of the service economy that waits on the deserted offices. Like my barber in Ludgate Circus, like the three Marks and Spencer’s within four hundred yards of my flat in Blackfriars, like the working girls who used Air B n B to turn my block into a brothel.
The last time this happened – was the Plague/ Fire of London thing that led to London’s business being conducted outside the City gates, in the mallow fields. That was 350 years back. Since then – the City has made it through a blitz, seen a glorious revolution and embraced railways , cycles – even the electric scooter.
This Covid-19 thing was the circuit breaker that woke us up. It made us ask the question – what are the twin cities of London for. Do we need office space at £70 sq/ft. Do we need multi-thousand pound railway season tickets. Do we need to queue outside for our lunch?
Perhaps employers are asking – why am I paying London weighted wages? Perhaps they are asking when their lease is up and what are break clauses. Perhaps the landlords of the offices in these cities are asking what multi-use options they have. Maybe the City of London’s 3,200 residents will be joined by the motley brotherhood of skate-boarding Broke-Boyz who hang around our churchyard.
I don’t see things returning to the broken 2019 normal – ever.
So where is all this spare money going?
To date, most have been keeping it in their pockets. This is because normal spending outlets have been closed (e.g. hospitality and travel) and confidence has been knocked. There is not expected to be a big splurge of all savings as we exit lockdown. Those who have been saving are the “better off”, so the pressure to spend is less, and confidence remains fragile. But as the taps have been loosening, the winning sectors have been online retailers (now up to one-third of all retail spending); property (house prices up 13% YoY); and home improvements/DIY/gardening. So, if you want to catch the wave, I’d recommend launching an online estate agent, with a side-line in garden furniture! – Alistair Mcqueen
This is a little suburban for my tastes – Alistair.
For me, the winning sectors are South London, West London, North London and East London. Listen to the great music coming out of Britain today, it is not being composed or performed in the suburbs. From the Royal Albert Hall to this playlist it is happening on London’s streets.
Oh and you can stick your festival and its fringe too!