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Bills, borders and balancing acts

By Richard Pickering, Cushman & Wakefield

Surging, settling and stepping down

One year on  

Well you can’t accuse it of being a dull year since the EU referendum can you? The Prime Minister resigned, the Chancellor resigned and the leader of UKIP resigned. The Governor of the Bank of England announced his intention to resign. The man leading the Leave campaign resigned his ambition to become Prime Minister – for now. The leader of the Opposition suffered a vote of no confidence but refused to resign, and so most of his Shadow Cabinet did resign. The leader of the SNP declared herself the true opposition, but lost the most seats in an unexpected General Election called by a new PM, who some are now calling upon to resign. We should perhaps resign ourselves to the fact that the next year promises to be equally eventful.

PM v3?

Despite representing a ‘win’ for the Conservatives, the General Election result brings with it a myriad of implications for domestic and foreign policy.  In particular there appears to have been a softening of position on austerity, immigration, and the form of Brexit.  But the political dice hasn’t stopped rolling yet. Whilst Jeremy Corbyn reportedly stated a belief that he will be PM ‘within 6 months’, the bookies disagree, with a further election in 2017 having only c. 25% implied probability. He does however enjoy equal odds with the resurgent David Davis of becoming the next PM at some point in the future. Being the only Labour candidate in the bookies’ top seven picks for this position is perhaps indicative of Corbyn’s increasing backing from his own party, whilst at the same time showing how the knives are sharpening behind Theresa May.

Settled status  

Paving a route to settle months of controversy, Theresa May has this week set out her offer to the EU regarding citizens’ rights. This is: (a) those EU citizens who arrived in the UK prior to a cut-off date (TBC – but not before 29 March 2017) will have a temporary right to live in the UK until: (b) they have accrued five years residence, at which point: (c) they can apply for ‘settled status’ (which is a bit like indefinite leave to remain). Those so affected will have broadly equivalent rights to heath, education and benefits as they do now, and there will be similar rights for family dependents. Those who arrive after the cut-off date will need to apply through new immigration arrangements, to be negotiated. Whilst there may be devil in the detail (not least, whether the ECJ gets to police the deal), the offer, described by May as ‘fair and serious’, should give UK businesses and EU workers some comfort over their status.

Surge pricing  

Many of us will have experienced ‘surge pricing’ in the context of the unwelcome multiple that Uber applies to its fares during periods of peak demand. However, soon this will be a common feature of a shopping trip, as retailers start to roll out dynamic pricing systems across the UK using electronic tags, reports the Telegraph this week. The system can help to manage stock levels and of course increase profit from customers who need to shop in peak hours. Compare this mark-to-market pricing of consumer goods with quarterly or annual accounting for real assets, and the ultra-slow 5-year re-pricing of rent. Potentially, new flexible lease models would allow for some measure of dynamic pricing, however the opacity of the property market and need for fixed commitments to achieve proper business planning probably renders this option unfeasible for most occupational contracts

Unpacking housing

With the housing crisis pricing many out of home-ownership, those wishing to get on the ladder may have to accept increasing compromises. This starts with ‘micro-apartments’ but could also include unbundling elements of the home that were previously consider core, including kitchens (responding to more social lifestyles) and internal walls (e.g. Naked House, Enfield). However, the most obvious win of moving storage space to a cheaper location is still overlooked by the majority of the UK, accordingly to the latest Self Storage UK Annual Industry Report, which we published recently in conjunction with the SSA. About 1% of the UK population currently uses self-storage, compared with a reported potential need by 51%. Could this be a new product opportunity for housebuilders, combining onsite living and offsite storage opportunities at a lower aggregate cost?

Going up?  

Madam,’ said Mr Wonka, ‘it is not a lift any longer. Lifts only go up and down inside buildings. But now that it has taken us up into the sky, it has become an ELEVATOR’. The elevator is arguably the most significant innovation ever in building design. It has allowed us to create the skyscrapers which are an integral part of our modern skyline. However, since its invention in 1854, little has changed – until now.  The fanciful nature of Roald Dahl’s ‘Great Glass Elevator’, which could travel ‘up and down, sideways, slant ways, and any other way you can think of’ is seemingly now a reality, as the ‘ThyssenKrupp MULTI’ ropeless design is implemented in the new East Side Tower in Berlin. Using a direct drive facilitates 90 degree turns, which increases efficiency, reduces the number of lift shafts required and potentially one day might allow cabins to dock in buildings from external transit systems.

Car-free cities  

Sadiq Khan’s draft Transport Strategy for London predictably promotes public transport over private car use. However, the most seized upon proposal is the potential to introduce road charging – essentially a pay per mile system, which might over time lead to a car free city. Banning cars from city centres has environmental and urban benefits, but is often perceived as politically impossible. For instance, Oslo proposed a complete car ban in 2015, but was unable to gain political support for the proposal.  However, the Norwegian capital has now found a new way to remove traffic in a three phase plan. The first stage is to remove all on-street car parking spaces (replacing the spaces with public amenities), the second phases closes certain streets to traffic and adds new bike lanes, and in the third phase the idea of a complete ban will be revisited. How long until similar proposals reach the UK’s crowded city centres?

A nation of Hufflepuffs

This week the Harry Potter franchise turns 20-years old, which, based on his age in the first book, places its protagonist at the ripe age of 31. Feeling ancient anyone? When asked by YouGov, most fans of course expressed a desire to be in Gryffindor (Harry’s school house, standing for courage and bravery), whereas an analysis of character traits suggests that most of us would in fact end up in Hufflepuff (hard work and loyalty), joining Adele and Ant and Dec who the public considered would be best suited to this house. Meanwhile, Theresa May, Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian and Simon Cowell all end up in Slytherin (cunning and ambition), where they would get to hang out with arch-nemesis Lord Voldemort and Draco Malfoy. The Electoral Commission is believed to be investigating the use of the Sorting Hat as an alternative to our current first-past-the-post voting system. However, the one-party State, run by the Ministry of Magic since 1707 and riddled with reports of corruption, incompetence, and summary justice, might allow us to reflect more kindly on our own political quagmire.

Humility and resolve 

The Queen set out the legislative programme for the next two years, and it seems that Theresa May has indeed accepted the degree of humility that she promised. In announcing 14 bills and two draft bills, provisions on: grammar schools, fox hunting, the ‘dementia tax’, an end to school lunches and an end to the pension triple lock were all conspicuous by their absence. Similarly missing was an announcement on Donald Trump’s proposed state visit to the UK, suggesting that this might not now happen.

Much of the speech was dedicated to provisions around Brexit, including new bills on trade, customs and repeal of legislation. Technology provisions covered matters such as data protection, electric cars, commercial satellites, space bases and HS2.

Finally, the unanimously popular provision on banning unfair tenant fees was included together with proposals on house building and housing market transparency.

Start of EU negotiations

Almost one year on from the referendum, negotiations have commenced between David Davis, and Michel Barnier over the UK’s future relationship with the EU. The UK appears to have accepted the EU’s position that there must be substantial progress on the terms of the exit (including the ‘Brexit Bill’) before talks can commence on the terms of a new trade arrangement.

The most immediate points to be discussed include the status of UK and EU citizens living abroad, and the nature of Northern Ireland’s new relationship with the EU. The latter may be influential on the UK’s final position on the single market / customs union, with the alternative to remaining in the single market seemingly being a hard border.

However, as Davis (quoting Churchill) noted, ‘The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty’.

Amazonian Foods

Amazon are about moving bricks and mortar retailing online, right? Not anymore it appears, as the online giant makes a $14bn foray into supermarket shopping with the acquisition of Whole Foods. What is behind this? Various reasons have been suggested, including: (a) the use of the 450 stores as logistics hubs for its wider network; (b) the acquisition of Whole Foods high-end customer base, (c) to take the fight to Walmart, which has been growing its online presence, (d) the potential to develop new grocery concept stores, and (e) potentially a realisation from Amazon that in the modern world online is not enough (currently grocery shopping has one of the lowest shares of online spend, c.5%, despite comprising almost half of UK floor space).

Either way UK supermarkets will be looking warily at Amazon’s next move, as eyes inevitably shift their focus across the Atlantic.

A fine balance

The fine balance between promoting growth and containing inflation last week took as step to the right as the Monetary Policy Committee voted in favour of maintaining interest rates, but only by 5-3, rather than 8-1 as previously.

Mark Carney has been quick to dismiss speculation, whilst noting, ‘As spare capacity erodes, the trade-off that the MPC must balance lessens, and all else equal, its tolerance for above-target inflation falls’. As Kristin Forbes (who voted to raise the rate the past three times) stepped down, it remains to be seen how this will affect the MPC’s decision going forwards.

Her parting comments: ‘The increase in headline inflation isn’t just a temporary effect of the exchange rate that’s going to go away … For a period now, we have been underestimating the inflationary pressures — I wouldn’t be surprised if we continued to do that.’

The high cost of high rise

The tragic events in Ladbroke Grove last week have provoked understandable anger, upset and blame. Whilst speculation has focussed on the cladding materials, and the failure to provide a sprinkler system, some have suggested that high rise living should be abandoned altogether.

Given the strong benefits of densification, that would likely be a mistake, but there are better solutions. Nearby Bayswater is the one of the most densely inhabited locations in London; not that one could tell from its stucco fronted houses, garden squares and heights usually limited to 6-storeys. High-density mid-rise buildings are shown to have community and aesthetic benefits, as well as creating ‘defensible space’ rather than the open tracts of land that bleed out from high rise structures.

As the population of cities grow, there are tough trade-offs to be made, but the trade-off between height and density doesn’t need to be one of them.

Role automation

A new study by the University of Oxford calculates the point by which AI will outperform humans at work. I imagine that most of us have certain colleagues for whom this achievement was satisfied with the introduction of the pocket calculator. However, for the rest of us this might come sooner than we think.

Truck drivers and some retail assistants have 10 years to go, says the study, whereas the New York Times could be fully automated by 2050 (meaning I don’t need a succession plan for my blog).  Full automation of labour could at its earliest estimate happen by c.2070, meaning that it may affect people entering the workforce today.

We should however take comfort from the fact that the ability to automate a role, doesn’t mean that it will happen straight away, and so more likely this is a problem (or utopia) for our great, great grandchildren to contend with.

Gig politics

A rare run of sunshine set an optimistically welly-free tone to Glastonbury festival. The 900-acre site, which has formerly played host to international stars like Jay-Z, will this year feature tea-total, vegetarian allotment-owner ‘JC’. Mr Corbyn took to the Pyramid Stage as the warm-up act for rapper Killer Mike. Of course, politics and pop aren’t such unlikely bedfellows, as former lead singer of rock group Ugly Rumours Tony Blair, might attest. Weaving contemporary pop into his campaigns, Blair employed symbolical songs such as ‘Things can only get better’ (D:Ream, 1997); ‘Call on me’ (Eric Prydz, 2004) and ‘Right here, right now’ (Fatboy Slim 2005).

Meanwhile, from the current iTunes chart, JC and Theresa have the following potential options: Unpredictable (Olly Murs), Bad Liar (Selena Gomez), and No Promises (Cheat Codes). They’d be well advised to opt for ‘There’s nothing holding me back’ (Shawn Mendes), or perhaps they could reflect on the words of Freddie Mercury…. “Is this the real life? Is it just fantasy? Caught in a landslide, No escape from reality.”

 

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