It’s been another week of drama, although this time of a legal nature.

Susan Freeman

Susan Freeman

As a result of the Supreme Court judgment in the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) test case in which Mishcon de Reya represented the Hiscox Action Group, tens of thousands of small businesses are finally set to receive insurance payouts covering losses incurred in the first national lockdown.

The Supreme Court found largely in favour of small firms receiving payments from business interruption insurance policies. For some businesses this could provide a lifeline which will ensure survival. As my colleague Richard Leedham, who represented the Hiscox Action Group said, ‘This is a landmark victory for a small group of businesses who took on a huge insurance player and have been fully vindicated.’

It was back to virtual panels and podcasts this week, after the not so ‘festive’ break. My first 2021 Propertyshe podcast guest was Ronen Journo who has recently left WeWork to join Hines, the international real estate firm, as European Head of Operations and Senior Managing Director.

As Journo is a leading expert on workplace trends, and has interviewed many global corporate CEOs on their office requirements post Covid-19, he offered some fascinating and positive insights into the future of the workplace. Of course differing views continue to be expressed.

Legal news new

Chancellor Rishi Sunak claimed this week that workers will return to the office post lockdown because we are social animals who crave interaction. He does not think workers will shift to working from home on a permanent basis. Also this week, the boss of Unilever, one of the UK’s biggest companies, said his office workers will never return to their desks five days a week, in the latest indication that Covid-19 will transform modern working life.

He also said, speaking at a Reuters conference, that he did not expect office workers in western Europe and north America to return to work until at least April, and that Unilever would use a ‘hybrid mode’ of working between homes and offices after that. Permanent changes are expected for many of Unilever’s 150,000 employees, 7,000 of whom are in the UK.

Look out for the Ronen Journo podcast next week as, if anyone knows how working patterns are likely to change, it’s Mr Journo.

I took part in a fascinating cross Atlantic session this week on the future of real estate, hosted from Canada by an international family office members club. I participated from London alongside David S Rose, a fifth generation property entrepreneur speaking from New York City. The Rose family dynasty really are New York real estate royalty. (Not to be confused with the Rose family of Schitt’s Creek fame!).

In addition to being a serial entrepreneur, David is also an angel investor, best selling author and keynote speaker who has founded or funded over 100 pioneering companies. He has been described by Forbes as “New York’s Archangel” and also finds time to be the founder and CEO of the US Real Estate Market, the New York equivalent of the UK’s IPSX, aiming to provide a capital markets platform for buying and selling shares in real estate assets.

Our discussion covered various real estate sub sectors plus topics ranging from blockchain and tokenisation to drones, and robotics.

Our chairman prefaced the discussion by name-checking the timely new book ‘Post Corona’ from bestselling author and NYU Business School professor Scott Galloway. Galloway regards the pandemic as not so much a change agent as an accelerant of existing trends and outlines the opportunities that lie ahead and who he believes will be the winners and losers.

And on the subject of virtual panels and events The World Economic Forum has highlighted the difficulty women are encountering in having a voice in virtual meetings. Almost half of US women business leaders surveyed in September said it was difficult for women to speak up in virtual meetings on platforms like zoom, while one in five women felt they’d actually been ignored on such calls.

Researchers at Brigham Young University in the US found last year that the gender dynamics shutting down women remained prevalent, even in the most well-intentioned settings. It sounds as if work needs to be done to ensure that everyone gets a chance to speak and be heard on zoom calls.

Across the Channel, the transformation of Paris continues apace. The proactive mayor of Paris has said that the proposed £225 million makeover of the Champs-Élysées will go ahead, although not before Paris hosts the 2024 Summer Olympics. Paris Mayor, Anne Hidalgo, said the plans would turn the 1.2 mile stretch of central Paris into an ‘extraordinary garden’.

Many years ago Manhattan Loft founder Harry Handelsman talked about the potential for Southwark Street on London’s South Bank to be the Champs-Élysées of London. He had in mind the creation of wider pavements with outdoor cafes and bars. Perhaps now is the time to follow Paris’s lead in greening some of our main thoroughfares and encouraging outside dining.

Debenhams Oxford Street

Debenhams Oxford Street

Source: Shutterstock/ Willy Barton

Oxford Street could certainly do with a similar makeover. This week brought the sad, if inevitable, news that the Debenhams flagship Oxford street store in London’s west end is to close its doors for good. The Debenhams presence on Oxford Street is the site of the former Marshall & Snellgrove department store which it merged with in 1919. It was only in the late 60s that this became Debenhams prime central London location.

The original and very grand Debenhams building in Wigmore Street is in Edwardian Baroque style, with touches of art nouveau and clad in white Carrara tiles by Doulton. It has no connection now with today’s department store chain of the same name.

In positive news for London, CityAM reports in a piece entitled ‘Global investors flock to London in ‘golden age’ for tech’ that London has cemented its role as Europe’s leading tech hub in after a near-record year of investment as global tech investors pile into London with a total £7.7 billion investment recorded in 2020, a quarter of Europe’s whole VC investment for the year.

The research indicates that non-European investors accounted for 57% of all tech VC investment into London. Unsurprisingly, north American investors represented the largest share of VC funding into London between 2019 and 2020.

If overseas travel is going to continue to be restricted, particularly in winter months and with the intermittent closure of Alpine ski resorts due to COVID, there may be a new option worth thinking about. North of the border, planning consent has recently been given for a new £13.8 million ski resort near Edinburgh.

The redevelopment of an existing ski centre, which apparently houses the longest dry ski slope in the UK, is due to include hotel accommodation, a glamping site for wigwams, shopping and food retail areas and the highest zip wire in the UK. See you there!

Susan Freeman is a partner at Mishcon de Reya