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London’s festive economy was “decimated” by rail and postal strikes, as new figures revealed the disruption caused by walkouts was the worst month on record since 2011.
Around 843,000 working days were lost to strike action in December – the highest for more than a decade – according to official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The surge in lost days followed industrial action involving Post Office, rail and NHS workers among others, and was the worst strike impact in a single month since November 2011.
Richard Burge, chief executive of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI), said the private sector strikes figures, while “staggering” were not a great surprise.
Burge said: “Transport and postal strikes decimated businesses in December, especially in London’s hard-pressed hospitality and retail sectors.
“The Christmas trading period is crucial and can mean the difference between business or bust. It will take a long time for [them] to recoup lost revenue associated with the transport and postal strikes.”
Burge added: “London’s success is built on being a global city for business and a well-functioning transport network is a key part of this.
“No one wants our economy to suffer because of strikes; the government and all parties involved must engage constructively to resolve this perennial issue once and for all.”
ONS director of economic statistics Darren Morgan said: “The number of working days lost to strikes rose again sharply in December.
“Transport and communications remained the most heavily affected area, but this month there was also a large contribution from the health sector.”
Trade groups also highlighted the ongoing impact of soaring inflation and workforce scarcity.
John Dickie, BusinessLDN chief executive, said: “Strikes, particularly in transport, are hitting London hard, with businesses already struggling with high inflation and labour shortages.”
And a Confederation of British Industry (CBI) spokesman said: “The impact on the economy is particularly difficult to manage when they are already facing severe labour shortages.”
But unions said there was no sign of the strike “wave” ending and that the ball was “in the government’s court”.
Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said the figures were a “warning” and workers had “no option” but to continue their battle for wage hikes as the cost of living crisis raged.
TUC chief Paul Nowak told ministers not to “underestimate” public sector workers’ “resolve”, adding: “Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt hold the keys to unlocking these disputes. They must come out of hiding and have meaningful talks on pay with unions.”
Gary Smith, GMB boss, added: “Strikes are happening because working people everywhere are standing up to defend their living standards.
“The government must stop burying its head in the sand and start talking with workers who deserve a decent pay rise, otherwise it’s only going to get worse.”