Oxford Street Christmas lights will be switched off during the day to save on energy bills

It's the first Christmas without restrictions in three years but now businesses face another challenge.

By Rhiannon Hopley, ITV News Producer

The Christmas lights on Oxford Street will only be switched on for reduced hours this year as businesses try to save on energy bills amidst the rising cost of living. 

The lights, which will be officially switched on in November, would usually stay lit for 24 hours a day. This year, for the first time ever, the 300,000 LED lights which make up the stars on Oxford Street will only be on between 3pm - 11pm. 

It will result in a two-thirds energy saving. 

The New West End Company (NWEC), who run the lights, say changes must be made to reflect the economic situation. 

"Obviously we're in a cost-of-living crisis and we're acutely aware the cost of energy is part of that. We really recognise that consumers want to come and experience the magic in the night-time hours but in the day, it would be more appropriate to have them switched off" says Dee Corsi, their interim Chief Executive. 

Christmas is the most important season of the year for Seven Dials market in Covent Garden. Credit: ITV News

Despite this being the first Christmas period in three years without the threat of coronavirus restrictions some businesses in central London feel they have little reason for festive cheer. 

Although the company's long-term projections for the recovery of the West End by 2025 are still on track, NWEC have downgraded their forecast for this year which Ms Corsi says represents a "real squeeze on the domestic purse."

Ian Dodds is the director of Seven Dials, a food hall market in Covent Garden. It opened in September 2019 and has weathered the effects of both Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic.

"The cost-of-living crisis is going to be huge for the industry. We've had a really positive few months since covid restrictions were dropped. Visitors, sales and average transaction values are higher than ever.

"We have bounced back hard but we are terrified that again mismanagement through this current government has put us in a position of peril for a different reason this Christmas. That is a cost-of-living crisis cooked up in Downing Street."

Shoppers are expected to spread out the cost of Christmas. Credit: ITV News

A fast-changing political landscape means instability for businesses. Measures of support are being brought in and taken away including the cut in VAT for overseas visitors - which businesses say would have helped make them more money. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said Jeremy Hunt's reversal of the pledge to reintroduce tax free shopping made by previous chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng is a mistake. 

"Our competitors, Paris, Madrid, Frankfurt, Dublin, have tax-free shopping for foreigners. When those visitors come, they don't just buy things from our shops, they spend money in our restaurants and hotels. I think the government has to realise that international tourists coming to London is good for our city and for our country and if we don't get them - our competitor cities will."

The New West End Company is also calling for an extension in Sunday trading hours - arguing this would help businesses make the most of tourists who are visiting on long weekends and hold potential spending power. 

Retailers are already making their own adaptions. John Lewis have brought their Christmas returns period in early recognising that shoppers will be likely to want to spread out their costs this Christmas.

Independent retailers are having to adapt quickly. Credit: ITV News

Platform is a collective retailer in St Christopher's Place just off of Oxford Street which features the products of independent designers, artists and makers.

The founder Stacy Chan says the economic uncertainty is a huge challenge for small businesses. 

"Instability doesn't help. Not only for us a business but also customer sentiment and the amount of tourism that is coming into the country. It's not great but as small businesses we keep weathering through, which is what we always have to do regardless of what's going on."

The importance of London's economy stretches past the capital's borders. Claire Harding from the Centre for London says the city's success is crucial to the economic wellbeing of the rest of the country. 

"London is our biggest centre for international investment. What that means is that there is lots of money in London and lots of that money ends up getting paid in tax. A lot of that tax ends up being spent in other parts of the country. If London tax take starts to fall that can cause really significant problems across the UK."

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