Extend Towns Fund to London’s High Streets

Ahead of the Government’s Spending Review, Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Luisa Porritt has called on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the Towns Fund to London’s high streets to help kickstart London’s recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The fund, to be allocated directly to local boroughs, would provide targeted support to businesses operating in local centres and support the ability of high streets to adapt to changing local demand.

London has the highest proportion of homeworking in the UK, and this has led to increased demand in suburban areas. With flexible working widely predicted to continue at scale after the pandemic, a reinvention of high streets will help permanently capitalise on the opportunity new working patterns present.

Last year, the Government created a Towns Fund scheme designed to support businesses in a similar way - but excluded London from its allocations. Now Porritt is demanding that the Government recognise the importance of London’s high streets to the capital’s economic recovery.

Porritt’s call features in a ‘Five to Fix’ letter to the Chancellor, outlining a package of economic measures deemed ‘vital’ to the capital’s future, including:

  • Extend Towns Fund to support local centres to adapt and drive the recovery
  • Extend furlough and support ‘forgotten freelancers’ excluded from financial support
  • Continue business rates relief for small and medium-sized businesses to March 2022
  • Fix Kickstart scheme to make it easier for SMEs to recruit young people
  • Scrap the 10pm curfew altogether in any Tier that allows bars and restaurants to open

Luisa Porritt, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London, said:

“The 600 neighbourhoods that make up our capital will be vital to our economic recovery, and local high streets are at the heart of that. The Government’s Spending Review must give London workers and businesses the support they need - both to survive today and thrive tomorrow.

“Investing in London’s high streets by extending the Towns will kickstart London’s recovery, helping local economies to meet the demand of more homeworkers and rediscover their purpose at the centre of our communities.

“Despite the difficulties that high streets have encountered in recent years, they remain home to half of London’s jobs. We can’t stop the rise of online shopping, but we can reinvent the high street for the future. With Covid-19 set to change our city forever, I see an opportunity for their revival.

“The 21st century high street will not only be an attractive place to shop, but a place of shared working spaces, after work drinks and other social activity. That’s why I’m calling on the Government to extend the Towns Fund to London’s high streets to kickstart the recovery across the capital.”

On the wider Government Spending Review, Luisa Porritt added:

“In the Government’s Spending Review, there is so much that the capital needs - both to survive today and to recover tomorrow.

“We must extend business rates relief for another year. We need financial support for the million-strong forgotten freelancers who have been excluded so far.

“We need to fix the Kickstart scheme for young people: a great idea in principle, but one that’s generating very little take up from businesses in our capital.

“And when we move back into the Tier system, we must scrap the 10pm curfew altogether - for which there is no scientific or economic case.”

The Letter In Full:

Dear Chancellor,

The Government’s Spending Review marks a crucial moment for our country and for our capital, which contributes almost a quarter of the nation’s GDP. As the Covid-19 pandemic continues, it is essential that people and businesses receive the support they need - both to survive today and thrive tomorrow.

There is so much London needs from the Spending Review, but I would like to focus your attention on five essential measures to fix for our small and medium-sized business community and its workers.

First, the Government should commit to extending the Towns Fund to London’s high streets to support local centres to adapt to new demand patterns and drive a locally-led recovery in the capital. The Government’s Towns Fund looked to help high streets adapt across the country, but London was left out of its allocation. I’m calling on you to recognise the importance of high streets to London’s economy, where half of our city’s jobs reside.

Secondly, I urge you to extend the furlough programme through to June and finally provide help for the forgotten freelancers who have been excluded from financial support so far. Londoners are particularly affected by this exclusion, with its army of freelancers who keep our vital creative industries and arts sector alive.

Thirdly, the business rates relief for leisure, hospitality and retail industries must continue through to the end of March 2022. Small and medium-sized businesses will be at their most vulnerable when they first re-enter the market, and they cannot be hit with the most burdensome taxes at the moment we need to support them to drive our economic recovery.

Fourthly, the Government must fix the Kickstart Scheme for young people. In London, take up of the scheme has been extraordinarily low and in part that is because of how difficult this is for small and medium-sized businesses to access. For example, the requirement for businesses to offer 30 places in order to participate in the scheme should be removed - and business must be consulted to help shape a scheme that works best for them.

Finally, once lockdown comes to an end and the tier system is reintroduced the 10pm curfew must not exist in any tier that allows bars and restaurants to open. There is simply no scientific, health or economic case for the curfew to continue and we have already seen the perverse effects it has on London’s streets and its transport network.

We live in challenging times, but I know London is resilient. Given the support it needs, our capital can bounce back and help drive the economic recovery of the whole country. I hope you will address what London needs in this week’s Spending Review.

Yours sincerely,

Luisa Porritt
Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London

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