18th November, 2020

From ghost town to back to business: How getting office workers back to their desks could boost London’s economy to the tune of £41 billion and save 57,000 jobs.

Midtown BID today co-launched a report looking at the economic impact of the absence of office workers in central London since Covid-19, and the devastation in particular on sectors such as hospitality, retail and leisure.

The research, conducted by economists at professional services firm Arup, calculates that a three-day return to the office as a result of a successful vaccine (or any other solution) by December 2021 would add £22 billion to the central London economy and potentially save 31,000 jobs in entertainment, retail, hospitality and accommodation.

If office occupancy gets up to four-days-a-week by December 2021, those figures increase to £41 billion revenue and 57,000 jobs saved from risk of redundancy.

The research also modelled for a worst-case scenario with no effective vaccine found by December 2021 which would see 87% of central London workers still working remotely. This would lead to an estimated 117,000 jobs at risk due to the lack of footfall, and London’s economy would contract by £84 billion.

The report acknowledges that occupancy levels are likely to stay below the levels seen pre Covid-19, with a hybrid blended three-day office week and working from home 2 days even becoming the norm. But in order to encourage as many office workers and visitors back to central London as possible, the report suggests a number of initiatives to inspire confidence and incentivise such as:

  • A ‘Work at the office to help out’ scheme potentially assisted by free or discounted public transport/flexible season tickets for commuters.
  • Greater take up and publicity for Visit Britain’s ‘We’re Good to Go’ scheme signalling a business has fully adhered to government guidance to prevent Covid-19 transmission.
  • More backing for active travel including additional and improved space for people to walk and cycle safely, plus free cycle lessons and bike repairs.

Debbie Akehurst, Midtown BID CEO said: “We’re very grateful to Arup for this research, highlighting the need to get workers and visitors safely back to central London. Office occupier footfall in particular  feeds other sectors in the area, such as retail, hospitality and leisure , and without people shopping and dining in sufficient numbers, many businesses will collapse and we’ll lose the rich tapestry of city life.

“We’ve already set out our response to Covid-19 in our RISE strategy and we will study the report’s recommendations carefully, working closely with our members and partner organisations to identify any and all opportunities not only to get back to the London we know and love, but to reinvent ourselves, creating a better version of what we were before.”

Matthew Dillon, Associate Director in the Integrated City Planning team at Arup commented:

“To secure the strong, post-vaccine recovery we need in central London, we must create compelling reasons for people to be in their office. This means re-thinking the role of the workplace, of streets and of public realm, focusing on people’s experiences and placing more emphasis on health and wellbeing.”

Alexander Jan, Chairman of Midtown BID commented:

“The advent of a successful vaccine provides more than a glimmer of hope on the horizon for London and indeed the whole of the UK.  What we now need urgently is a properly thought-through set of flexible policies aimed at getting the central London economy back on its feet.”

Read the full report here.