As a resident of the City of London it is a very eerie feeling for me to have the usually busy Cityscape at such a standstill. No planes overhead (except the London Air Ambulance red helicopter flying to and from the Royal London) and a sporadic stream of cars and vans and rather too many noisy blue light flashing ambulances. The bright red buses have a reduced timetable but still enliven the scene albeit with very few occupants. The many public green spaces and pocket parks are blooming with spring flowers and blossom with only the birds and bees to enjoy their shade and nectar.
Only 2% of business premises in the City are still occupied and then only with a skeleton staff, save for the retail food shops that are still open. The City Corporation is largely working from home but vital services such as social care and waste collection are still operating. The City Police are still present and keeping a watchful eye over all that is happening. The criminal fraternity may not be self isolating.
St Bartholomew Hospital founded in 1123 has seen this all before (Black Death, Great Fire and the Blitz) but is now reforming its operation to meet this new need. Whilst it is not a full service hospital – it specialises in heart and cancer treatment - it is now reconfiguring to treat all heart emergency surgery across London (thus relieving other hospitals in this regard). It is also transforming what was a 6th floor with 16 intensive care beds into a ward with 70 such beds in order to provide world class care for those with Covid-19. Staff are needing to be retrained in these areas and the senior clinician is positive about the difference that they can make.
The City Police are fully operational but one of their officers died during the week of Covid-19. They report an immediate drastic drop in the daily crime rate but still warn that Counter-terrorism is a viable threat to the City. With so many empty premises unguarded there has been a number of burglaries and it is the case that many shops are now being boarded up against such intrusions. There are some random assaults and occasional urban explorers who seek to scale the tall buildings for fun. Whilst there is reduced traffic this can be deceptive and the police are still picking up traffic offences that often lead to other offences such as no driving licence or possession of drugs and a worthwhile arrest.
The City Police also run the national Action Fraud helpline and, again numbers of reported cases are down but it is a fear that this might be a blip. Fraudsters turn their hand to anything and there are already many reported cases of fraudulent calls to the elderly and spoof and fake email scams tricking people when they are most vulnerable.
The numerous building sites in the City are rather still with cranes at rest position. Last week only five were still operating. However there are crews working on emergencies and loose manhole covers that are both irritating to residents with the continuous thud as cars go over them but also where they are creating a lasting pothole in the carriageway ( a complaint from one of my voters).
The City was the first authority to give preferential parking rights to the NHS and other care and emergency workers allowing them the right to park for free in the car parks and at metres.
City businesses have the benefit of various government schemes as to rates and loans. Additionally the City has proposed a scheme to help their direct business tenants with concessions as to the rents at this time.
For residents in the City there is a City Advice team on hand; libraries are online as well as the Museum of London. Additionally a food bank has been set up for those residents in vulnerable situations. Set up in 7 days with the help of Age UK this helps residents across the City, who are a very diverse set of people.
Food banks are not the only way to help others at this time. The City Bridge Trust is a founder partner in the London Communities Response Fund which is being administered and convened by London Funders. The City Bridge Trust has donated £1m to the fund together with a further £1m from the Greater London Authority. The fund now stands at over £8 million. This is giving immediate help to charities across Greater London . Charities do not qualify for much other assistance at present. Mainly they do not want to furlough employees as the work that they are doing with the most vulnerable in our society needs to continue even more so now and not stop. However the funding sources such as shops or even donations have dropped by an average of 50%. A national equivalent fund called the National Emergencies Trust has been set up.
It is amazing how we are all adapting and it pays to be flexible and creative at this time. The City of London is not closed; it is online (not offline) and working as hard as ever. When you come back I hope you will return to a City that has both survived and been transformed in its ways of working and the value it puts on its people and those around them who collectively make sure this City works.