Commercial property market on the turn?

The City Corporation’s latest planning committee meeting passed two major new office developments today, for 10 storey and 16 storey blocks in the City of London. Does this signal the turning of the tide of recession? It certainly follows a fallow period, when very few new projects of any major size were delivered to the City planners for consideration. 

In reality, it is unlikely these two buildings, one on Cheapside, and the other next to the Gherkin, will start construction right away. There’s plenty of new office space still nearing completion in the City, and maybe little immediate chance that it will be occupied. But maybe their developers can see demand for them three or four years off?


Big business missing out on education partnerships

Yesterday I went to Wycombe Museum as a guest of the Buckinghamshire Education Business Partnership, for a reception to recognise those who have been involved in BEBP’s enterprise projects. Simply these involve getting real businesses and business people linked up with schools, helping expose kids to the world of work, and to thinking about real world business issues. 

Buckinghamshire’s initiative is one of the best, and won a national award a while back that recognised it as being superior to other schemes around the country in what it has already achieved. Elton Boocock of Urban Media, who has been heavily involved, pointed out that the businesses involved have all given their time and expertise because they wanted to, but many have also received a great return from work placements and testing out potential new members of their teams. 

I myself helped to run a project at a school in Gerrards Cross, where teams of teenagers had to devise a new chocolate bar brand. They had to come up with a name, a brand concept, packaging – and then present their proposals. And all without resorting to a Powerpoint presentation. 

What struck me was how few large businesses were at the gathering. The BEBP team has done very well in harnessing networks such as the BRX breakfast networking groups, to find support from smaller, local businesses. But the big employers, some of whom complain of skills shortages and that school leavers are ill-equipped for the world of work, were conspicuous by their absence. Come on, guys.


The curse of Facebook

A very good friend – about my age – was persuaded by a friend who has relocated to foreign parts, that she should open a Facebook account in order for the two of them to keep in touch. 

She did, and has hardly used it at all. 

Problem is, now she’s being contacted by folk she was at college with more than 20 years ago. Should she get in touch with them? There was probably a good reason why they didn’t keep in touch after college, why does she need to make fresh contact with them now, after all these years? And why do they think that finding long lost school friends is necessarily a worthwhile exercise? 

As you might have gathered, I’m not on Facebook!


Surf rowing comes to Europe – sponsors wanted

It’s one of the most exciting sports you can watch at the coast – surf rowing. A big, big sport in Australia, it’s now creeping into Europe. And the next World Surf Rowing Championships are scheduled to take place in Biarritz in September 2010. 

Right now, we’ve been engaged to find a headline sponsor for the event. So if you know a brand that would like to be associated with this exciting new sport, with its European and Australian links – and with guaranteed TV exposure – then get in touch!!


Unemployed? No need to be with this news

I just spent Sunday with 1,500 very positive people – it was seriously uplifting. 

My partner and I are agents for a company that provides great value utility services and a range of other savings for householders across the UK. And they are growing by more than 10,000 new customers a month, with a target of doubling in size within three years. 

Which means everyone is busy, all the company staff are absolutely certain of their jobs, and us as agents are set fair for consistent increases in what we earn every month. So no talk of a downturn for us – this was a roomful of smiley, happy people.

In fact, for anyone who has lost their job or is worried about losing their job, or is keen to look at a way of earning extra money, this might just be a great opportunity. It’s simple, part time, flexible and ethical. As a FTSE 250 listed company, with an OFGEM and OFCOM licence to protect, the company is protective of its brand, but suffice to say those interested should visit http://www.mustardmini.co.uk and click on Earn With Us – once you have enjoyed the French & Saunders clips prepared for your enjoyment.


Old office – new hotel

Today’s City Corporation planning meeting in the heart of London saw yet another second hand office building given approval for conversion into a hotel, the latest in a growing stream of planning permissions. 

This time it is a block just south of Fleet Street, previously lawyers’ offices. Last meeting, it was a building on the north bank of the Thames. Then there’s the old Midland Bank headquarters in Poultry. And that’s just the City – there’s plenty more in Westminster. 

Not sure if this headlong rush to develop new hotels is the 2012 Olympic effect, desperation on the part of office owners casting around for the next tenant, or a fundamental shift to more people wanting to stay in better hotels than those currently available in central London. Either way, it’s an interesting change in the building landscape of the British capital.


Peter Day of the BBC glimpses the future

“Don’t expect conclusions,” warned the esteemed BBC radio business journalist Peter Day, speaking to an audience at AT Kearney’s offices, an event organised by the London alumni of the Manchester Business School. But he did at least provide some pointers to the way things are heading. We can at least be certain of change: “Our world, the one that has served us well since the second World War, is being turned upside down.” 

Day said we are right to take notice of the rise of the new economies such as China, India and South America – in fact, maybe we are not taking them seriously enough. And he mentioned Nine Shift, a book by William Draves and Julie Coates, that compares the upheaval of current times with that experienced by the introduction of the automobile a century ago. This time it will be the internet that makes a similarly dramatic impact on the way we live and work. There’s so much information out there which will be valuable, once we learn how to use it more effectively. 

Consumers will have different wants, too. This century will be about millions of micromarkets, the era of mass customisation when consumers will demand what they want, not take what they can get. Traditional production and advertising will struggle. What Day called a “concierge society” will require providers to get much closer to their customers. 

I find all this intriguing. Working as I do with a virtual network of partners, am I at the vanguard of the new ways of working, or just an oddball? More than a decade ago, I helped write The Home Office Report, a document inspired by UK property researcher Geoff Marsh, which predicted that new ways of working would consign unwanted office blocks to new uses, such as apartments.

Some of this happened as older buildings failed to make the grade. But dramatic new ways of working, with everyone rendered mobile by cellphones and broadband, did not redefine corporate office life or do away with demand for office blocks in quite the same way as Geoff envisaged. Maybe it’s corporate culture – the fear of not being able to control someone you can’t see at a desk – that is holding back new ways of working; or perhaps the mistake of thinking that attendance equates to output (it was appropriate for Henry Ford and the production line, but not for the 21st century office). 

So will this recession be the one that finds more corporations reshaping to embrace flexible working? It’s going to be fun watching.