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Calls for tax-free shopping reform as footfall in London’s West End down 73%

Tom Bottomley
16 July 2020

London’s West End welcomed 5.1 million visitors since 15 June, down 73% year-on-year, as calls for government action to help retailers facing £5 billion sales losses and 50,000 job losses gather ground.

The figures have been released by the New West End Company, which represents retailers and businesses across Oxford Street, Bond Street, Regent Street and Mayfair, which also specifies that reforming tax-free shopping could add £1.4bn in retail sales annually, and give an overall benefit of £2.1bn to the UK economy.

While footfall in London’s West End has been rising since the reopening of non-essential retail - increasing by 5% since retail reopened - London is still faring worse than the rest of the UK.

City centres, significantly central London, are being held back by a series of restrictions, including uncertainty surrounding returning to work and the use of public transport.

Clarity from the government, in line with local authorities, is needed to instil consumer confidence over the coming weeks and ensure that retail and hospitality businesses run viably throughout the summer.

London’s West End has an average footfall 19% lower than the national average, so without further government action, and with the lack of domestic and international tourists and office workers, things are on course to get worse.

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive at New West End Company, commented: “The protection of retail and leisure jobs is our utmost priority and, while the government’s measures take the first step in supporting the West End’s recovery, without consumer confidence to travel and visit this situation is highly precarious with 50,000 jobs are at risk.

“With no international visitors and mixed messaging surrounding the safety of returning to work and using public transport, we urgently seek clarity of government messaging for our businesses to survive. With the UK-EU trade deal deadline also looming, we need to ensure that destinations that rely on international visitors, which have been so hard hit by the pandemic, are accounted for in longer-term recovery plans including levelling up on tax-free shopping with the EU.”

Ian Earnshaw, commercial director at Mulberry, added:With the decline in sales and footfall bought on by COVID-19, the retail and leisure sector urgently need new measures to ensure that businesses in London and the wider UK can operate on a level playing field as they recover from the implications of the pandemic. The tax-free shopping reform is a low-cost and effective change that will enable UK retail businesses and destinations to regain a competitive advantage against other retail centres and compete on the global stage.”

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