'You idiot'! London traders react with anger after Olympics minister Jeremy Hunt insists they're 'quids in'
- His assessment is at odds with evidence which found takings were down by an average of 40 per cent at central London restaurants
- Theatres, attractions and West End retailers who have extended opening hours for an anticipated Olympics rush say they are suffering
By Sean Poulter
PUBLISHED: 18:37 EST, 2 August 2012 | UPDATED: 01:52 EST, 3 August 2012
Fury: Business leaders lambasted Jeremy Hunt, pictured, yesterday for dismissing their reports that the Olympics had savaged takings
Business leaders lambasted Jeremy Hunt yesterday for dismissing their reports that the Olympics had savaged takings.
The Culture Secretary said their claims were ‘absolute nonsense’ and many restaurants, attractions and stores were ‘quids in’.
The assessment, which led to him being called an idiot, is at odds with evidence from the British Hospitality Association. It found takings were down by an average of 40 per cent at central London restaurants.
Theatres, attractions and West End retailers, who have taken on extra staff and extended opening hours for an anticipated Olympics rush, also say they are suffering.
The situation is so serious that the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, held an emergency summit with tourism and retail chiefs in a bid to encourage shoppers into the capital.
And last night David Cameron also urged people to come back into London, which Olympic travel warnings have helped turn into something of a ghost town.
Rejecting the complaints of traders, Mr Hunt, who is Olympics minister, had said: ‘Some West End businesses have done extremely well because they’ve marketed on the back of the Olympics.
‘Some businesses have taken a hit, others are doing very well, but overall there is a big increase in business in the East of London.’
Asked about a fall in trade, he replied: ‘This is absolute nonsense and we have just got to knock this on the head. Anyone who has a business anywhere in London is frankly quids in.’
But Ufi Ibrahim of the BHA said: ‘He is wrong. The evidence shows a very different picture.
Assessment: The Culture Secretary said their claims were 'absolute nonsense' and many restaurants, attractions and stores were 'quids in'. He is pictured at an event yesterday with Prince Harry
‘Our postcode research shows an average decline in takings of 40 per cent in central London restaurants compared with a year ago. One is down by 61 per cent.
‘The problem is that the authorities were making so much noise about fears of gridlock. People were told not to drive into London and to work from home.
‘As a result, restaurants are really struggling. Demand has been slack for six weeks at the same time costs are rising. All of a sudden, we see a 40 per cent fall in takings. This is serious.’
She said the real concern was that there was no guarantee things would bounce back.
Where are they all? Madame Tussauds in London was struggling to pull in visitors yesterday, despite Jeremy Hunt's claims
Spokesman for the Restaurant Association, Richard Bradford, who runs Porters in Covent Garden, described the Culture Secretary as ‘an idiot’.
‘This is total rubbish. There has been a serious fall in trade,’ he said.‘They encouraged the British to stay out of London, which removed the regular trade we rely on.’
The BHA and other organisations were called in by Mr Johnson’s office on Wednesday. Warnings not to go into central London will be dropped.
UK Inbound, which speaks for tour operators bringing foreigners to the UK, said people had stayed away because Transport for London exaggerated the chaos.
The Prime Minister said: ‘The messaging we gave to people about making sure London traffic jams weren’t too bad was very important but now frankly we’ve shown the capital isn’t in meltdown.
‘People can start coming back into the capital to spend money in shops, restaurants and the rest.
Bare: Theatres, attractions and West End retailers, who have taken on extra staff for an anticipated Olympics rush, also say they are suffering. This was the scene in the normally thriving Covent Garden earlier this week
‘People, and news organisations, were predicting there would be a meltdown, traffic wouldn’t cope, we’d have an absolute disaster. That hasn’t happened.
‘I don’t think they were overblown. We’re holding an Olympic Games in one of the most thriving and busiest cities in the world.
‘We had a responsibility to work with the public to make sure traffic didn’t grind to a halt. We’ve delivered that.
‘Now we can say to people it’s working well, London’s open for business, come back.’
Bizarre: London's Oxford Street was extremely quiet this week
Westfield shopping centre at Stratford will turn away shoppers without Games tickets between 9.30am and 4pm today and tomorrow.
The decision has been presented as an effort to counter overcrowding but it will also drive trade to other parts of London that have suffered during the Games.
As many as four million people in London will work from home for at least some days during the Olympics, it is claimed.
The figure – based on a study by O2 – demonstrates that the dire warnings of commuter gridlock have had a profound effect on work patterns.
It also explains the many scenes of quiet trains and streets.
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