Lack of 'London joy' will drive people to wine and ready meals, minister warns

People will return to lockdown routines of having a “bottle of wine and ready meal” at home if their visits to central London lack “joy”, a business minister has warned.

Paul Scully, who is also Minister for London, said people needed to feel confident to return to the capital once coronavirus restrictions have been eased.

He told told MPs during a short Commons debate on London’s economic recovery that it was essential people are informed about what steps have been taken to ensure public transport, shops and hospitality venues are safe.

If people find it “too onerous” to order a pint in a pub due to “all the structures put in place” they are not likely to make repeat visits, Mr Scully said.

During the debate, Conservative MP Felicity Buchan asked for a rethink on the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants when the health data allows for the measure to be lifted.

MPs heard that statistics suggest only 41 per cent of people have returned to work in London, with Ms Buchan raising the “perceived lack of confidence” in public transport as something which needs to change.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Scully said: “We must remember when employers say they’re not bringing back their employees to their workplace any time soon, until maybe next year, health figures notwithstanding, they shouldn’t expect London naturally to be the same London that they left.

“It doesn’t have a God-given right to exist preserved in aspic, it’s incumbent on all of us to work together to make sure that we have a plan for recovery.”

Mr Scully said there has to be a “90-day plan” for when the health figures allow London to move from Tier 2 to Tier 1.

“We need to be ready to go,” he said.

“We’ve had one go at it; it didn’t work in the speed and the way that we’d have liked.

“So we need to be absolutely ready that when we can get that incidence rate down across the boroughs so we can move to Tier 1, we’re ready to go to make sure people have the confidence to travel, the confidence to go back to their workplace albeit in a more flexible way – we’re not trying to get back to January, February 2020, there is a certain sense of permanent change, but we need to be able to shape that change.”

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Mr Scully added: “Within that short-term recovery it’s so important we make sure that we show, not tell, people what Transport for London has done, what our retailers, publicans and restauranteurs have done, make sure they’re safe.

“It is about confidence, beyond that it’s also about joy.

“What do I mean by that? When you go to museums around London, when you go to a restaurant or pub – if you go to a pub and it’s too onerous to get a drink because of all the structures put in place, what are people going to do?

“They’re going to go back to a bottle of wine and a ready meal as so many people did in lockdown.

“So we need to make sure not only do we get people out the house and into the centre of London the first time, but that they want to come back time and time again and enjoy everything London has to offer.”

Ms Buchan earlier also highlighted concerns over the abolition of tax-free shopping from January 1, noting that international visitors spend a “huge amount of money” in shops, restaurants and hotels.

“If we make it less attractive for them to come to London by effectively putting a 20 per cent increase on to the cost of their goods then they will simply go to Paris or Milan,” she said.

Additional reporting by PA Media.

Evening Standard – London