Westminster council chief executive voices concern for the borough’s economy

By Julia Gregory

The economy will be the biggest challenge in Westminster over the winter according to the council’s chief executive.

Stuart Love was asked by councillors on the scrutiny committee to highlight his worries.

He said: “I think the biggest challenge for us is the economy. It’s jobs.”

Whilst Westminster is the bottom of the league table of Londoners on furlough, the capital has seen the “sharpest increase in people claiming benefits and the sharpest decrease of people on payrolls,” he said.

Overall claimant rates have more than doubled  from two per cent to 5.5 per cent – a total of more than  10,000 people.

And by the end of July, whilst lockdown was lifted almost 30,000 residents were on  furlough, but job adverts had halved.

And businesses in Westminster “create more GDP for the country than any other part of it”.

He said a key focus was supporting business and pressing government for changes to the discretionary grants to help people get back into work. The payments are calculated on the number of residents.

This does not take into account the particular issues that London  has with many workers commuting in daily.

Speaking before the latest Tiers were announced, Mr Love said he thought it was most practical to keep the whole of London in one tier.

He said whilst the rates of infection  across London vary from 100 per 100,000 to 400 per 100,000 it would be difficult to have different tiers.

He said communities “don’t necessarily recognise borough borders” and it would have been “nigh on impossible to police”.

Mr Love chairs the central London pandemic sub group and has regular briefings including at least three briefings a week with the capital’s chief nurse.

And he said the council  and other London  boroughs are working with the NHS to make jobs coping with the pandemic such as helping with the mass vaccination programme into  “long term work” which “will be subsumed into the NHS”.

Nickie Aiken who is the MP for Cities of London and Westminster said: “Obviously I am disappointed that we are not in Tier 1 but relieved it’s not Tier 3. We have to recognise that this disease has not gone away and we have to live with the consequences.”

She added: “I do hope that  being in Tier 2  that businesses and hospitality businesses can reopen. It’s really important that local people support them but also really adhere to social distancing and wearing masks and washing hands because we need to really support businesses and the only way we can do that is by ensuring that the infection rate is not continuing to rise.”

And she said there needs to be a roadmap to reduce the rate and for London to get into Tier 1 – the lowest tier.

She has lobbied government together with Westminster, City of London, Islington and Camden to look again at how the discretionary grants are administered and ministers have agreed to look at it again.

“It’s been a double whammy they haven’t got the emergency discretionary grants in the amount that they news and central London has been really clobbered in lost footfall.”

She added: “We’ve got amazing viable businesses in central London and they will bounce back but they just need a helping hand.”

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