UCL London


How UCL is supporting London’s business and economy sector in wake of Covid-19 fallout

Written by Professor Alan Thompson, Dean, Faculty of Brain Sciences and Pro Vice Provost (London), UCL

29 JUNE 2020, issue 4

Alan Thompson

It’s hard to believe that we have been living with the Covid-19 pandemic in London for over three months. In previous issues I have talked about the impact of the crisis on Londoners, communities and our mental health during lockdown. In this issue I want to focus on London’s economy and business sector and how UCL is responding to changes. Research from UCL has shown that the duration of lockdown matters more to economies than their severity because shorter lockdowns cause less disruption to regional and global supply chains. In recent days the UK government have announced relaxation to the lockdown rules, a move which should start to have positive influence over business and the economy here in London.

London’s economy has taken a huge hit since the announcement of lockdown and restriction of movement was announced in late March. Data produced by the Greater London Authority in June suggests that London is projected to see an unprecedented fall in workforce jobs, minus 7% in annual terms, as well as London’s household income and expenditure both with notable projected decreases.

Of course the economic fallout has been partly due to a number of factors, and a significant factor in London is related to transport which has been hit hard during the pandemic. Transport not only effects the number of people going to and from work, but also the wider London economy including arts, culture and the retail industry. Bus and tube usage has decreased by over 80% according to Department for Transport statistics since 01 March.

Furthermore the financial impact on London businesses themselves is vast. Given that restrictions are now being slowly lifted, employers, including UCL, are now assessing their workplaces to consider how and when they can welcome employees back to work in a safe environment. Increased costs including redesigning office spaces, buying new equipment, associated costs with more frequent cleaning and new hand-washing facilities all add up. In addition there are direct costs to those employees working from home including the purchasing of equipment and the increase on electricity, internet costs and utility bills.

Despite all of these mitigating factors, UCL has a strong track record of working with industry, government and networks to drive innovation and economic growth and being placed, albeit virtually, in London builds on this strong connection with policy makers. Remarkably UCL is actively helping around 180 London SMEs to survive and grow during this immensely challenging time. Demand for guidance and support from UCL Innovation & Enterprise’s Global Innovation Team has increased by almost 20% since April.

By stimulating the local London economy, UCL is contributing to wider growth by responding directly to help UK government deliver the Covid-19 business support schemes. This is being achieved through funding from the Enterprise Europe Network, part of Innovate UK, the UK’s innovation agency which is part of UKRI. A team of experts within UCL Innovation & Enterprise’s Global Innovation Team manage a unique relationship through this fund that purely supports around 180 London SMEs; no other Higher Education Institution is providing such frontline support of SMEs in London. As a result of this additional support, 57 jobs have been created between January and April and £2.3m contracts and grants agreed since April.

Moreover, as part of Innovate UK’s ‘Survive, Stabilise and Grow’ approach, UCL’s team of experts have been advising London SMEs on how to pivot their business propositions and repurpose their technologies to tackle emerging societal or industry needs in the wake of the pandemic.  

However, whilst UCL is helping to launch high growth potential businesses in to the London startup ecosystem, providing a crucial vehicle to help restart and stimulate local economies during an economic crisis, there are many examples of UCL startups mobilising during the pandemic.

One key sector in London which has been hit particularly hard economically is the charity sector. UCL startup Charity Checkout is a payment solution that enables small and medium size charities to accept donations online. Founded in 2012 by Chester Mojay-Sinclare (UCL BA Philosophy) it supports charities in raising over £25m each year and provides online fundraising products to over 4,000 organisations.

The London retail sector has also been negatively affected however there are many shops and retailers that have remained open during the lockdown to sell essential goods. Upon government advice these retailers are only accepting cashless payment in an attempt to limit transmission of the virus. UCL startup Mishipay has been ahead of the curve in this respect. The company delivers a mobile self-checkout solution that allows in-store shoppers to pick up a product, scan the barcode, pay with their phone, and simply walk out of the shop with their purchase. With teams in London and Bangalore they are actively working with retailers in the UK and India at this time.

We must also recognise that UCL has been at the forefront of driving wider innovation and economic growth during the pandemic and continues to do so. UCL’s team of engineers, UCLH clinicians and industry partners Mercedes-AMG High Performance Powertrains have developed a breathing aid that can help keep Covid-19 patients out of intensive care. The CPAP breathing aid is being used across London hospitals as well as elsewhere nationally and internationally. To help meet international need, UCL has released the designs and manufacturing instructions for free to governments, industry manufacturers, academics and health experts across the globe. 

Additionally we are building on our relationships with our local partners and there has never been such an important time to remain such a valuable partner to those in our locality during a time of crisis. Colleagues from across UCL are continuing to advocate and drive real change in London and for Londoners. For example through the work of Professor Mariana Mazzucato and the Institute for Innovation & Public Purpose, and Professor Henrietta Moore and the Institute for Global Prosperity, UCL has continued to work closely with the London Borough of Camden on key areas such as economic renewal, prosperity, sustainability and social change. We look forward to evolving these existing relationships, as well as taking forward new relationships as we emerge from the pandemic.

Finally I’d like to raise awareness of all the array of virtual meetings and workshops being hosted by UCL colleagues in London, many of which are targeted at renewing the London economy. Most pertinent are those supporting students and recent graduates to develop new business ideas, advice and guidance on applying for startup visas and online skills training for those who want to pitch ideas or business proposals.

Furthermore on 16 July UCL Public Policy and UCL’s Grand Challenge of Justice & Equality are hosting a timely roundtable on implementing an inclusive economy in London whilst in post-crisis recovery. The Covid-19 pandemic has both highlighted and exacerbated inequalities in the UK and as the economy reopens and the long road to economic recovery begins, this roundtable will open discussion on how London can be built back better with an inclusive recovery that tackles structural inequalities. Chaired by Amy Lightstone and Professor Geoff Mulgan CBE, the event will provide an excellent opportunity for shared learning and discussion from leading experts from across UCL, business, and policy to discuss what is needed to implement an inclusive economy in London in a post-Covid-19 landscape. Click here to attend.

To share your stories of how you are impacting London and Londoners, please contact Amy Lightstone.