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London leaves the rest of Britain trailing in Olympic gold rush

Travelling around London this week has been a game of two halves.

Travelling around London this week has been a game of two halves. While many areas seem almost eerily quiet following a mass exodus of residents to escape the Olympic invasion, other areas – mainly near the big tourist attractions – are already verging on uncomfortably packed. With the influx of Olympic visitors now reaching a peak the next two weeks look set to be pretty hectic for us Londoners, but what does that mean for fashion across the country as a whole?

I wrote a while ago about how the huge regional variances in UK trading have basically formed three economies – London, other major cities, and ‘the rest’. The Olympics has served to highlight this particular issue and indeed polarise even further the situation between those in the capital and those out in the regions.

London has had massive investment in infrastructure but also retail store openings and development, and there is no doubt certain retailers and brands will benefit from the huge number of extra visitors – in particular those that manage to capitalise on their ‘Britishness’ will do well. This will partly depend on location, and may be offset by the loss of regular trade as British customers stay out of town to avoid the crowds, but overall the city has benefitted massively from the halo effect of the Games.

There is also something to be said for the feelgood factor the Olympics and Paralympics give the UK – even before the Games begin, the Tour de France win and the upturn in the weather have already laid the groundwork for a more positive consumer, and a more positive consumer is more likely to part with cash.

Outside London, however, the picture is less rosy.

It is unlikely that many fashion businesses within towns and cities in the rest of the UK will directly benefit to any huge extent from the extra visitors, barring perhaps some of the big out-of-town retail parks like Bicester Village.

Add to this the fact that many of them have been forced into Sale alongside the high street, which went quick and steep with discounts this season to clear product before the tourists arrived – sadly doing so just as the hot weather hit, meaning most consumers geared up for summer at a hefty discount.

And with government investment being almost entirely focused on London, much of the rest of the country has missed out.

I’m not, I hasten to add, an Olympic grump – I’m a big supporter – however, I think it does unfortunately further highlight the ‘them and us’ scenario playing out regionally in the fashion business. The organisers call it the London Olympics but it should be known as the British Olympics – any uplift and investment needs to be shared. London has weathered the recession well; it is outside London where ministers need to focus their support for business.   

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