The voice of commercial property is silent. Newspapers overflow with reports of the negative effects of property development and overseas investment on our society - who is spelling out the real facts? Who is fighting for fair taxes and regulations of our sector?
In a political and business landscape that seems to air more and more loud, opinionated voices each day, the voice of commercial property can be drowned out by the crowd.
Of course, the answer is the wide variety of industry bodies championing our cause. Organisations such as the British Property Federation (BPF), the Investment Property Forum, the RICS and the Property Industry Alliance all do valuable work to challenge the government and push for change.
But as active members of the industry, we need to do more. We need to echo their efforts. We’re now in an even tougher political environment than before the election and we need to make sure the voice of property isn’t lost.
Our tools are the facts surrounding property. Despite reproach from the wider media landscape, the reality is that commercial real estate has a market value of more than £1,662bn in the UK, according to the BPF - that’s 5.4% of UK GDP and more than 20% of total net wealth. The sector employs more than 2.1 million people - 6.8% of the country’s labour force.
Property is a significant driver of growth, a consistent wealth generator, a key provider of jobs and an arguably disproportionate source of tax revenue. By developing run-down properties to create outstanding new offices, the sector is attracting overseas businesses to our cities, in turn bringing even more jobs and tax.
Given these statistics, you’d think that the industry would be in a position of great influence. But every day, organisations such as the BPF have to fight to be heard over the UK’s weighty media machines. This means that on issues that are vital to commercial property’s prosperity, we miss out.
There’s no way of knowing what the government will come up with next and another wrong move will shake our industry further
Take the government’s giant U-turn on business rates earlier this year. Its monumentally poor decisions suggest that it didn’t in fact consult anyone who had a clue about the impact of its announcements.
There’s no way of knowing what the government will come up with next and another wrong move will shake our industry further. Overseas investment is a key point to consider. The UK media is doing its best to inflate the belief that overseas investment is damaging to society and the development of cities, when in fact it makes our country stronger.
It helps us to create the city landscapes that we need and provides jobs. Overseas investment is now heading to the regions in a big way, providing opportunities to improve our cities that wouldn’t otherwise exist. If we don’t shout this from the rooftops, though, the wonderful roundabout of overseas money coming into the UK could stop at any time.
To stand a chance of being heard, we need to work together. It took seven months after the EU referendum last June for an industry body to release its conclusions on what the industry needs from negotiations moving forward - and when three reports did emerge at once, they focused on different points.
While all were valid, there was no united front; no concise manifesto that champions our causes. Faced with this diaspora of opinions, how can the government listen?
Business leaders need to stand behind our industry bodies and we need to promote cross-organisation collaboration - whether through amalgamation, a new committee or business leaders joining forces. After all, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.