The Centre for Economics and Business Research is one group that feels all of London will suffer if it loses the aura of being an exciting place to work.
Pablo Shah, a senior economist at the CEBR, said: “We had a management meeting in the office and were able to see what London looks like as the lockdown eases. To be frank, it looked like a ghost town. London last week did not look very attractive to the talent it needs.”
Talent has always come to the City for the work, and the gossip. For the information you cannot get on a screen.
In the 17th century, meetings in the City took place in coffee houses in the alleyways. When they became too big for these premises – or burned down – formal exchanges were formed and the City thrived.
Jonathan’s coffee house was opened around 1680 and later gave its name to the bar in the old Stock Exchange building, simply being named “Jonathan’s”. Indeed, when the original coffee house burned down in the Cornhill fire of 1748, it was immediately rebuilt with the support of brokers, and was given the name New Jonathan’s. It was renamed the Stock Exchange in 1773.
Richard Hunter, the head of markets at interactive investor who has been in the City since God was a small boy, says: “The more modern equivalent in an age of electronic trading is for meetings in pubs and restaurants. The City remains a place where markets are discussed, relationships built and deals are agreed.”
David Buik of Aquis Exchange, who has been in the City even longer than Hunter, says: “It’s a tragedy to see the City look like an updated ‘Boot Hill’ in a new ‘Western.’ I don’t care how good technology is today, the tech can’t do everything; it needs people. The City owes society a debt of thanks. It needs to support the entertainment and food sector, or the economy will fall off a cliff. If we don’t go back to the office the interpersonal skills the financial sector needs will also go.”
From a pub perspective, the City will have its work cut out as many of the favoured haunts are small and not suited to social distancing.
The Old Doctor Butler’s Head,Ye Olde Watling, The Bell, and The Cock and Woolpack are among the pubs who will be praying for an early vaccine to be found and then distributed to eliminate the potential danger of enclosed spaces.
To aficionados, those pubs are more than just places to drink. They are quasi trading floors where data at its rawest is swapped.
Hunter remains optimistic that the Square Mile will figure all this out. “The City will reinvent itself if needed and thrive as it always has,” he says.
Those who think like that have at least one thing in their favour: they have always been right before