After images of four nights of rioting and looting in British cities were flashed across the globe, business leaders and politicians have begun to assess the damage to London’s reputation.
With less than a year to go before the UK capital hosts the 2012 Olympics, London had been expecting international attention for quite different reasons.
Boris Johnson, London mayor, said the violence had been a “massive own-goal”.
But while business chiefs acknowledged that the anarchy on the streets had knocked London’s standing, many were confident that the city would prove resilient.
Steve Ridgway, chief executive of Virgin Atlantic, the second-biggest long-haul airline at Heathrow airport, recognised that the riots could hurt London’s and the country’s image.
“It is very important that we do get on top of the situation in this country and it was good to see it was quiet in London [on Tuesday] night. The world needs to realise that London is a great city – not least with the Olympics less than a year away.”
News organisations around the globe carried extensive coverage of the chaos on the streets of London and other UK cities.
In China, for example, which is proud of its smooth staging of the 2008 Olympic Games, one report on the state-run Xinhua news agency said: “After the riots, the image of London has been severely damaged, leaving the people sceptical and worried about the public security situation during the London Olympics.”
As streets in some of the riot-hit areas remained ghostly quiet on Wednesday, London continued with business as normal in most places.
However, sporting events were hit as England’s friendly football match against the Netherlands on Wednesday night was cancelled. The start of the English Premier League football season in London was also in doubt.
Shops in some areas of London closed early again on Wednesday, while footfall figures showed that the number of shoppers nationally on Tuesday was more than 7 per cent down compared with the same day last year.
Stephen Robertson, director-general of the British Retail Consortium, said the cost of the disturbances to the retail industry could be “north of £100m”.
Concerns were also growing about the effects on small businesses in troublespots.
The Federation of Small Businesses said: “There are businesses that are just shutting up shop and boarding their windows. It’s going to have a huge long-term effect on their profits. They are going to be concerned that people are not going to go into those areas and they won’t be getting any trade. It could force some of them to close.”
The organisation also said it would be watching for rising insurance premiums and security costs on businesses in riot-hit areas, and it called on organisations such as insurers to be lenient on businesses.
Chuka Umunna, the shadow business minister, called on insurers to pay up rapidly. “If they fail to do so there is a real risk that entrepreneurs may go under,” he said.
London First, which represents large businesses, said it was planning a series of meetings with agencies and member companies in the capital to gauge how best to tackle the issue of London’s reputation as a safe place to visit and do business.
Many countries, including France, Italy, Sweden and Denmark, have changed their travel advice to citizens visiting Britain, urging them to exercise “extreme caution” when venturing out at night and to avoid crowds.
The US also issued advice to Americans in the UK on its citizens’ services website. At this time of year, more than 333,000 international visitors are in London every day.
Mary Rance, chief executive of UKinbound, the tourism industry body, said the riots were “most unfortunate for the global image of the UK”.
But she said the effects of the rioting would be “very, very short-term” and that operators were not reporting visitors cancelling trips to the UK.
Additional reporting by Mark Odell, Andrea Felsted and Jim Pickard
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