The clocks go back this weekend so we’ll be waving a final goodbye to our British summer which has helped keep spirits up over the last few months.
Apart from the prospect of darkness closing in from mid-afternoon and an end to energising after work walks, spare a thought for everyone involved in transatlantic zoom calls and events. Having finally got used to the conversion from EST (Eastern Standard Time) to BST (British Summer Time) for transatlantic calls its now back to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) and the potential nightmare of missing a panel role due to a conversion error.
It’s heartening to see so many collaborations coming to the fore to help London respond to the effects of the pandemic. I have always been a supporter of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) but the central London BIDs in particular have turbo charged their lobbying efforts in the past months on such issues as tax free shopping, business rates and other matters vital to London’s survival.
I am therefore delighted to report that I have recently joined the board of the Midtown BID for Holborn, Farringdon and Clerkenwell chaired by Alex Jan. Having been a member of the board at the inception of its predecessor, the Holborn Business Partnership, some 20 years ago I do feel as if I’m coming home. Watch this space as the BID continues to respond to the particular challenges posed by COVID.
I am also pleased to report that Tony Matharu, one of my fellow Midtown BID directors, has been instrumental in convening Central London Alliance (CLA), an entirely new entity launched by the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Heart of London Business Alliance, and Matharu’s Blue Orchid Hotels.
The Alliance is backed by London businesses, communities, charities and other entities who are collaborating to pool their considerable resources and influence to lobby for London’s recovery and to ensure that London continues to be competitive on the international stage.
As Richard Burge, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry said: “Central London means so many things to so many people across the world. Its economy is the beating heart of our capital and our country. It powers global trade, enterprise, and investment. It is the hub of British tourism. The role of the Alliance is to gather together the expertise and passion of those within central London to ensure this recovery happens sooner and sustainably. Let us talk about what we can do and see London coming together to safely drive the recovery.” So let’s give the Alliance all the support we can.
And another London call for collaboration that caught my eye this week is the City of London’s excellent ‘London Recharged’ report produced with Oliver Wyman and Arup. It is a call for action by business, government and academia to work together in collaboration to ensure medium term recovery for London and the UK. The report creates a “vision for London in 2025” based on London’s existing strengths and demonstrates that London’s future will depend on collaboration, innovation and sustainability.
Again the all-important ‘collaboration’ word! Based around a series of case studies, the report poses some key questions. How will London’s built environment change as business needs evolve in response to #Covid-19? What does London’s competitive future as a financial centre look like? It makes the case for visa structures and immigration procedures that could make it simpler for skilled workers to come to the UK. Clearly London will need to reinvent itself to remain competitive and this report makes some good practical suggestions to achieve this.
For instance, the City wants a fifth of office tenants to be new to the Square Mile by 2025 to encourage start-ups and innovators and 50% of journeys between rail stations and workplaces to be walked or cycled with the enhancement of pedestrian and cycle routes. And there’s an aspiration for a 50% increase in visitors to the City outside business hours. With the City currently like a ghost town, there are some really useful suggestions here which will hopefully frame an ongoing discussion particularly with other central London stakeholders.
In a new tech initiative announced this week, Mishcon de Reya has launched the intriguingly named MDRxTECH, a digital transformation consultancy that designs and applies digital solutions in legally complex and heavily regulated areas. It marries data science, technical, consulting, legal and regulatory expertise to engineer technology strategies, policies and solutions for clients. Traditionally, a market dominated by consulting firms, MDRxTECH puts the law firm at the heart of the service, ensuring legally compliant architecture at every stage.
As Michael Jelen, Director, Berkeley Research Group put it, “MDRxTECH has a unique blend of both technical and legal capabilities to ensure that the solutions we engineer are compliant by design, so that we can return our focus to solving business problems.” With technology transforming every aspect of our lives, this should be of interest to stakeholders across the real estate asset lifecycle and ecosystem, from land registries, agents, managers, investors and construction firms through to start-ups, disruptors and innovators. It could be of particular relevance to sustainability, for instance in engineering and deploying technology solutions to measure, mitigate and offset carbon footprints.
Another exciting new initiative launched this week is the Grosvenor campaign aimed at getting young adults much more involved in the planning process. Their research shows that young people are currently excluded from the conversation around development. Since young people make up 20% of the population it makes no sense for them to be left out of decision making around the future of their neighbourhoods.
The initiative’s backers, drawn from the public and private sector include Westminster and Camden Councils, British Land, Peabody, Civic Voice and London Youth. Working with ZCD Architects, Grosvenor have produced a national youth engagement toolkit containing advice on how to involve young people in the development of their communities. Clearly, in this time of accelerated change on all fronts it is the next generation that will be best placed to understand how the way we live, work and interact can be changed for the better. This initiative aims to give them a voice, opportunity and an equal voice in how places are made and managed.
And also this week, I chaired a power-packed young panel which drilled down into the future of the workplace. Our session entitled “Why Service is the Future of the Office World” was part of the Drastic Summit, billed as ‘Canada’s Most Comprehensive Real Estate Technology Event’. At this virtual three day summit which was broadcast out of Toronto Canada, I had the pleasure of presiding over an inspiring panel of transatlantic disruptors who were only too pleased to challenge the status quo. Caleb Parker of Bold and I joined from London, with Dave (#VoteWithYourFeet) Cairns from CBRE from Toronto and Annie Rinker of the Hines Office of Innovation joining from Houston Texas.
It was particularly challenging to find a time slot to suit all of us. If you are interested in hearing from some vocal experts in space as a service about the layering of services and the direction of travel for offices, tune into a recording of this event if you can. As Caleb Parker commented afterwards ‘that was fun.’ It certainly was!
And finally, are we now clear on the operation of Tier Two rules to business dining? London’s Delaunay restaurant attempted to bring clarity with their email to customers, ‘We are all finding the Tier Two rules bewildering and whilst social occasions need to be from a single household, BUSINESS MEETINGS ARE ACCEPTABLE within the rules. So, we wanted to let you know, we are proceeding with business bookings from different households.’ Other restaurant businesses have reacted in a similar fashion.
Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya
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