Pickering’s Pot Pourri

by  Richard Pickering

Take it or leave it  In a bid to head off at the pass any potential amendments to the Brexit Bill, David Davis has confirmed that which was expected; that MPs will get a vote on the final terms. However, it is unlikely to achieve this bid. Rather than being the ‘significant climbdown’ pointed to by Keir Starmer, the agreement to a vote is a moot one. When questioned in the Commons on whether a no-vote would mean leaving the EU with no new deal, Mr Davis rose to simply reply ‘yes’, before retaking his seat.

As tweeted by Tory backbencher Heidi Allen on the ability to agree a revised deal following such vote, ‘there’d be no time!’. And which MP would want that on their record? However, this runs deeper. With cross-party support for various amendments building, and with over 400 amendments made at the time of writing, Theresa May’s fragile majority looks under pressure. The odds of her exit before March next year have shortened (2/1), and will doubtless do so further if she loses the vote.

When is a worker not a worker?  In a landmark case this week, the Central Arbitration Committee determined that Deliveroo riders are not employees. The decision centred on the riders’ ability to turn down a job before and after accepting it; hence no minimum wage, holiday or sick pay for the deliveroos. This sits in contrast to the Employment Appeal Tribunal decision that Uber is not merely a platform to connect drivers and passengers, hence the inheritance of employment rights. The lack of clarity is unhelpful in what is an increasingly important component of our workforce.

‘Gig’ work already represents 4% of the UK’s employment base and the technology platforms which support it might soon rank among the UK’s biggest employers, (Deliveroo is set to become the UK’s latest unicorn following recent fundraising of £285m). The Taylor Review released earlier this year recommended that a new status of ‘dependent contractor’ should be introduced for gig workers that don’t benefit from employment rights. As with real estate occupation, businesses will continue to push for greater flexibility, and it is the job of industry and government to arrive at a system that works for all.

Open data  The PropTech industry has been given a shot in the arm in the form of a massive free data release from the Land Registry this week, with more promised to follow. The lack of consistency and centralised availability of data about property has acted as a defensive force against disruption in recent years. Compulsory registration of land commenced in 1990, and 27 years on, 84% of our land mass is now evidenced in over 3 million lines of data.

Many will not welcome the prospect of more open data sets, as the pricing efficiencies that this would promote will reduce the potential for skillful, opportunistic gains. However, for institutions who take a longer view, greater transparency would remove some of the risk of investing in property, which should in turn exert downward pressure on yields. Indexes, such as IPD, and planning portal information form another part of this picture. However, there are much wider data sets around the use of property enabled by smart sensors and big data platforms, that perhaps represent the underwater iceberg, whereas what we see now is its tip.

Open Sesame  It is almost impossible to find an article about retail disruption without a reference to Amazon. However, we should not forget about the existence of its twin to the East.Alibaba (market cap $465bn) is following much the same path as Amazon ($550bn), but also has the advantage of exposure to China’s quickly evolving middle class.Testament to its growth, the Chinese tech giant transacted $25.3bn on its ‘Singles’ Day’ sale with mobile users accounting for 90% of that figure.

A particular area of growth from last year’s Singles’ Day (think Chinese Black Friday) was in offline to online transactions where shoppers could purchase items in pop-up ‘smart stores’ using mobile payment methods. In contrast to Amazon, the Alibaba offer already has a deep rooted physical store presence through, for instance, its ‘Hema’ concept, which fuses a traditional supermarket with a fulfillment centre, united using mobile payment tech. This, Jack Ma calls ‘new retail’. Watch this space.

Back to school  Hoping to replicate their office-focused success in the classroom, WeWork has branched out into a new project called WeGrow. No, this is not the medical marijuana supplier dubbed ‘the Wallmart of Weed’ that returns the top hit on Google for this word. Instead, aimed initially at the private pre-prep / junior school market, the operation will source buildings and provide teaching services. The concept building design is, as one might expect, suitably aspirational and boundary pushing (plus one day per week in a farm), but the move to becoming teachers is the element that might raise the most eyebrows.

The project intends to use the WeWork network of employees and start-up customers to provide children with lessons in business. The blurring of education and business is very deliberate. This is, of course, quite normal in higher education, with link-ups between universities and say life-science campuses being an important component of modern innovation. Moving into primary schools (a potentially lucrative market) feels like a logical step for WeWork; however, it does raise more philosophical questions about early years education.

Geocode  Identifying a parcel of property is something that is at the core of surveying. Historically, property was typically delineated by hedgerows, rivers or stakes in the ground. However, as cities became more complex, new forms of identifier were needed. In 1857, the UK started to adopt the systems of postcodes and, in 1911, the first 1:1250 ordinance survey plans were produced. However, as we move into an era of drone deliveries, autonomous vehicles and satellite imagery, new and inventive geo-codes are being produced.

One such alternative to the unmemorable OS reference is being produced by What3Words, which has ‘divided the world into a grid of 3m x 3m squares and assigned each one a unique 3-word address’, using three random normal words to describe each square. This could spell the end of street name addresses, confused delivery drivers and awkward conversations with taxi drivers (oh you meant that High Street…). In case you were wondering, the Cushman & Wakefield office address under this system is ‘adding.future.charm.’ Can’t argue with that.

Doubling up Brevity is the soul of wit’, wrote Shakespeare, in what may have been a founding statement for Twitter.To-date, the social media platform has limited user tweets to just 140 characters (remember SMS messages?). However, proposals are afoot to double this to a generous 280 characters.

No longer just a vehicle to post pictures of cats and celebs, modern Twitter is a powerful political tool. Donald Trump is currently tweeting at a run rate of 51 per day, and one wonders what more could be achieved with the extra 7,140 letters at his disposal…

Meanwhile, the average length of a New Europe article is a consistent 160 words, and the structure is based on the teachings of George Burns: ‘The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible’.


Head of Futures Strategy
Cushman & Wakefield

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