London is recovering more slowly than Paris or Milan due to restrictions
The Chancellor has outlined clear growth measures to boost foreign investment in London, but on Wednesday missed the chance to unlock more spending from the millions of international visitors who flocked to our capital.
London is the envy of other cities thanks to our premier retail, innovative leisure outlets and world-class restaurants. However, unlike other cities in the world that seek to attract tourists and international visitors, London’s stores can only open for six hours on Sundays due to a law introduced nearly three decades ago.
We were disappointed that the Chancellor failed to respond to our calls this week to add London’s international centers to the list of Sunday Trading Act exemptions in his Spring Budget.
Shopping destinations in New York, Dubai, Milan and Madrid all enjoy longer trading hours on Sundays. Sunday trading laws have also been relaxed in the tourist destinations of Paris. The West End is defined as an international hub in the Mayor’s London Plan. This status should be more than just a geographical limitation, it should also come with planning and licensing benefits that allow the West End to compete more effectively on the global stage. We are not calling for Sunday trading laws to be changed across the UK, but we believe the case for international centers is clear and strong.
VisitBritain estimates that 25% of the £28.4bn of international visitors per year is spent on shopping, a large proportion of which is in the West End. And we know Sunday is the busiest shopping day of the week across the district when we look at the data per trading hour – 65% busier than the weekly average. Yet visitors are asked to leave the shops at 6pm – in contrast to the 8pm closing of the Galeries Lafayette in Paris or the midnight closing of the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai.
London has started the year strong in the face of adversity. Our road to recovery has already been shaped by its fair share of challenges, such as the Chancellor’s decision to reintroduce tax-free shopping for international visitors. This is another factor putting the UK at a huge competitive disadvantage to other global shopping destinations.
The truly heroic aspect of this decision is that it was based on incorrect and incomplete information. Last year’s report by the Association of International Retail and Oxford Economics found that tax-free shopping could actually save £350 million by attracting more tourists, far more than the Treasury estimated it costing £2 billion a year to maintain. will deliver a net benefit of £100,000 and help support 78,000 jobs not only in the West End, but across the UK.
To get a really accurate view of how the West End is performing, we need to benchmark its success against other European cities. Simply put, rival European cities like Milan and Paris are rapidly recovering from the pandemic and economic challenges as international visitors can shop longer and take advantage of 20 percent tax-free shopping discounts at the same time.
The latest figures from Global Blue, released this week, confirm that we are lagging behind. While our visitor spending from the United States and GCC Gulf countries is looking positive compared to 2019 levels – 101% and 65% of pre-pandemic spending respectively – our continental cousins are seeing much higher numbers. In France, visitors from the United States are spending 226% on pre-pandemic levels, while spending from GCC visitors is up 198% on 2019.
At a time when the government is looking to implement measures that will set the UK on a path of economic growth, liberalizing Sunday trading in the West End will do so without costing the Treasury a penny.
Our research indicates this would provide an additional £340 million in annual net sales, supporting 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs. It is high time for the Chancellor and the Government to open their minds to the full opportunity of an early Sunday closing in our international centres.
De Courcy is the chief executive officer of New West End Co.
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