The Rt. Hon The Lord Mayor of the City of London: Alderman Vincent Keaveny
The start of the year is usually a time for optimism, resolutions, and new beginnings. But many people across the City are also experiencing a case of the January blues now that the festive period is behind us.
The Omicron variant continues to drive record Covid-19 case numbers across the country. London is particularly affected.
Meanwhile, the Plan B restrictions introduced last month will lead to a considerable number of City workers staying at home in January – preventing them from interacting with colleagues except through virtual means.
The return to working from home will be a major drag on businesses across the Square Mile that rely on footfall from nearby offices.
At the time of writing, the Government has ruled out new restrictions. Either way, it is evident that the pandemic is far from over.
There are grounds for optimism, however, even during these testing times.
First, we are much better prepared than we were at the onset of the pandemic.
The number of people getting their jabs continues to climb. A pop-up Covid-19 vaccination centre stationed outside the Mansion House before Christmas helped workers and residents to get protected against the virus. Further pop-centres are set to appear in the coming weeks to support the Square Mile’s dedicated vaccination hub at 120 Fleet Street.
Equally importantly, we have all also become increasingly accustomed to wearing face masks and regular testing to prevent the spread of the virus. Everyone should continue to act responsibly to help break chains of infection and ensure we return to normality as quickly as possible.
Secondly, we know that most City workers are desperate to come back to the Square Mile as soon as they can.
Flexible ways of working are here to stay. More and more people, however, were returning to the City’s streets prior to these fresh restrictions. In fact, footfall had jumped more than 25 per cent since we launched a campaign last October to showcase the City’s vibrant offer – encompassing culture, heritage, cuisine, entertainment, retail, architecture and much more.
Recent figures also show a surge in the amount of office floorspace approved for new Square Mile developments. In 2021, a total of over four million square feet of new office floorspace was given the green light. It represents an increase of almost 70 per cent on the previous year.
This is a vote of confidence from investors and developers in the long-term future of the City office market despite the challenges posed by Covid-19. Businesses are demanding sustainable buildings that offer the flexibility needed to adapt to new ways of working. These innovative developments will underpin the Square Mile’s recovery and ensure it remains an attractive location for workers and businesses.
Lastly, the financial and professional services sector has proven resilient despite the impact of Covid-19 – helping to support the wider economy during an exceptionally difficult period.
Trade deals such as the first one agreed “from scratch” with Australia last month will help drive growth and create jobs in both countries. The role of services has been recognised through provisions supporting innovation and also ensuring businesses and professionals on both sides can have certainty of access. This is a very welcome development.
The short-term outlook for 2022 may look somewhat gloomy, but I am confident that we have a brighter year ahead of us. Businesses, workers and residents now eagerly await a clear roadmap to normality from the Government so that the City can return to its vibrant, energetic self.