London's financial district still quiet as people avoid public transport

City of London Corporation's policy chair Catherine McGuinness is 'very concerned' about the knock-on effect on shops and cafes

The skyline, including the office buildings of the City of London, is seen beyond the River Thames in London, England on September 02, 2020. / AFP / DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS
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Confidence in using public transport is holding back bankers from returning to their offices, the City of London's leader said on Tuesday.

Catherine McGuinness said she was "very concerned" about how the lack of people in the financial district was hitting support services like shops and cafes. Some 40-50 per cent of staff are expected to return to the office up to the medium term, she told reporters.

One of the main barriers to people returning to the "Square Mile" was low confidence in public transport, she said.

"We would like to get out the message that there is capacity on the public transport system, it's as safe as possible to use," Ms McGuinness said.

Footfall was recovering better in other parts of the capital, she said, but there was no sign yet of a reduction of interest in City commercial property, even though office usage is likely to change.

The City is facing the prospect of losing lucrative access from January to the European Union, its biggest customer, as tensions mount between London and Brussels over trade talks.

It was "regrettable" that there was no rapid progress in Britain securing a deal with the EU before Brexit transition arrangements end on December 31, Ms McGuinness said.

The EU will not allow banks in Britain to offer investment services to customers in the bloc, with Credit Suisse relocating some European investment banking operations from London to Madrid.

Nevertheless, Ms McGuinness urged Britain to grant access for EU financial firms to the UK market soon and live up to its reputation as an open trading country.

"I don't think the government is giving as much focus to financial services as it ought to be doing," she said.

"We have come through plagues and fire before, and I am very confident the City will thrive after this," Ms McGuinness said, referring to the Great Plague that was followed by the Fire of London in 1666 that spawned the insurance industry.