The Future of the City

The Covid-19 Pandemic has meant the vast majority of workers in the city are continuing to work from home with no sign of a turnaround any time soon. Small coffee shop owners and takeaway lunch operators in my ward have contacted me to tell me they are really struggling and are concerned for their livelihoods. The high rents in the city mean they have been unable to access business rates grants because they are over the threshold. It’s a similar, if not more damning, story for theatres and concert venues.

The future of offices looks entirely different than what we have been used to. Many employers aren’t even entertaining the idea of returning to the office, which leaves many in the city workforce stuck in a long dark tunnel with no sign of light. For those that do, desks will be fewer on each floor and more spaced out. Architects and Interior designers need to think about more meeting space. Lifts and staircases may need to be adapted. But all of this comes at a cost.

For the financial services industry in London, the future appears bleak. Could there be a long-term or even permanent delocalisation with no need or appetite for a concentration of skills in global centres now that work is being done remotely? What more can the city be doing to address this threat of delocalisation of financial services industry?

And then of course there’s the travel to work. People are reluctant to travel on the tube and it remains to be seen if they will ever return in significant numbers. What measures can we take to ensure safe commutes to central London?

We all seem to be relying on a vaccine becoming available but where are our back-up plans if this cannot be developed soon? There are urgent issues happening now. Surely our focus must be on protecting what we have built up over the years but adapting as appropriate.

The City of London Corporation in partnership with Oliver Wyman and Arup have recently published the ambitious London Recharged: Our vision for London in 2025.  At the moment, this is just blue sky thinking, and I wait to see how much of it will make it into policy.