Ministers deny Olympic "ghost town" effect on London's businesses

Ministers have stressed that London businesses can see benefits from the Games, despite claims in some quarters that the capital has become a “ghost town”.

London mayor Boris Johnson admitted that the Olympics has so far had a “patchy” effect for firms, but said some parts of the city are doing “really well”.

He said: “What’s happening is people are having a great time and those who are looking to engage with the Games are doing great business.”

Figures from Experian showed that footfall had fallen by 9.6% in east London stores and 4.53% in the West End compared to last year, which sparked fears that small businesses could be hit by the lack of visitors to the capital.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association has also revealed that cab drivers have seen a 20-40% drop in business.

But culture secretary Jeremy Hunt echoed Johnson’s sentiments, highlighting that businesss that have marketed themselves effectively for the Games were enjoying a “big boost” in trade.

Hunt emphasised that it is important to look carefully at the impact of the Olympics “in perspective” and consider the long-term benefits as well as the short-term ones.

He said: “The point for all London retailers, London theatres and London hotels is that having the Games in London is the best possible publicity they could hope for.

“London is already one of the world’s great cities, but these Games have made it iconic and if you have a business in London, in the years to come you are going to benefit massively from the huge amount of publicity, PR, promotion and marketing that you get from having a Games in London.”

Meanwhile, sports minister Hugh Robertson pointed out that firms have had “ample time to plan” for the Olympics, which he believes will provide “a huge payback in terms of tourism and spend on both the economy and in the retail sector in particular in the years ahead”.

He told BBC News: “There are parts of the West End that are a little bit quiet. This is entirely traditional in Olympics, people tend to go out of the city early on and then flow back into it as the Games progress.”

Some business organisations have reported that after a poor weekend trade seems to be picking up.

Transport for London has also abandoned recorded warnings from Johnson about expected congestion, which have been blamed for scaring people away.

But Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, says cab drivers are still waiting for a turnaround.

“Normally about 90% of our customers are Londoners but they’ve all left the city and haven’t been replaced by tourists,” he said.

“I don’t know where all these tourists are or how they’re getting about, but London is like a ghost town.”

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