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Shapers, Polishers and Trotters

By Richard Pickering, Head of Futures Strategy

Trotters Independent Traders

Brexit ≠ Brexit Both the Conservative and Labour stances on Brexit appear to be softening, as the complexity of the process militates against harder line views in both camps. For both parties, the smoothing of a transitional period is paramount. However, recent comments by Kier Starmer might be construed as going much further. In an apparent U-turn, the shadow Brexit secretary wants the UK to stay in the single market and customs union during a transition period for ‘as long as necessary’. With a number of Europhile Conservatives favouring this policy, Theresa May’s preferred exit strategy may now struggle to achieve a Commons majority. Given the intervening General Election (Labour favourite to win), some have read this as leading to a potentially permanent position, which would leave the UK in Norway-like arrangement – continuing to pay into Europe and subject to freedom of movement, etc. etc.  So not Brexit?

Wind and Water Hurricane Harvey has ploughed into the Texan coast, leaving a path of devastation centred on Houston. Whilst hoping that the comparison is irrelevant, Katrina caused over 2,000 deaths and required over $70bn of emergency relief funding. The principal damage caused by Harvey is through flooding. Whilst our weather in the UK rarely receives praise, we should perhaps be thankful that it is rather insipid. Nevertheless, 1 in 6 properties in the UK are estimated to be at risk from flooding, with the figure rising due to more extreme weather. The UK flood map predictably shows large swathes of low lying land around the Wash, East Yorks and Somerset as being at high risk, but these areas tend to be sparsely populated. The larger asset risks come in major cities, notably London. However, despite the provision of better information, research shows that memories are short, and the impact on values and insurance availability due to flooding tends to be short lived.

Rubber on the Road We are one step closer to having automated lorries on the road in the UK with the announcement that wireless ‘platooning’ will take place from next year. The system of three lorries in convoy (with only the lead lorry having a driver) has been used in the US, but critics cite safety concerns on the UK’s congested motorways. Driverless cars achieve the limelight, but driverless lorries are surely the more immediate and tangible prize. A 2014 report by DHL sets out a vision for driverless lorries, which would reduce freight cost by 40% per mile. Automation will also improve accuracy, efficiency and safety in the warehouse, which should in turn reduce the circulation space requirement, whereas automated handovers between different vehicles will speed up truck turn-around times in yards. Meanwhile, last mile solutions can be radically changed through self-driving ‘packstations’ (delivery centres), support vehicles that follow delivery drivers, and even self-driving parcels…

Take a Chair The way we work has changed considerably over a relatively short period of time, and continues to evolve. The shift is away from the traditional desks (supporting role-based working), and towards more fluid solutions (supporting task-based working). A recent study by Ted Moudis Associates presents a comprehensive analysis on how this impacts on office design. The report finds that although the number of private offices has decreased, the usable square feet per desk has increased, as space has been reallocated from fixed workstations to amenity space. Significantly, the paper finds that the number of ‘alternative (unassigned) seats’ now outnumbers the amount of assigned workstations. Other findings include fewer smaller pantries (replaced with larger central cafes) and disappearing filing cabinets (as we move to a ‘paper-light’ office).

Movers and Shapers The World Economic Forum has published its annual Global Shapers Survey tracking the views of the 50% of the world’s population that is under 30. In most regions, remuneration was listed at the top criteria for job opportunities, but notably in Europe this was ‘sense of purpose’. 81% were willing to travel abroad for their career, emphasising the increasingly global nature of the workforce; but in good news for the UK, it remains the top European destination for relocators. Of all the challenges facing the world, the respondents ranked climate change as the top concern, with 78% saying that they were willing to change their habits to protect nature, with similarly large amounts giving weight to corporate social responsibility. A key question remains: whether today’s young people are indelibly affected by the generation in which they grew up, or whether, as studies have shown, their beliefs will change as they age. As Winston Churchill allegedly said, “Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains”.

A Nation of Shopkeepers? A new paper released by Citi and the University of Oxford makes a startling prediction that 80% of retail jobs will disappear entirely and (similarly to mining and agriculture) will not be replaced. However, should we be surprised, or is this just part of the natural order of things? 150 years ago, 20% of the UK worked in agriculture and now the same figure is <1%, whereas manufacturing jobs fell from c. 40% to less than 10% over 50 years. Our building stock has adapted accordingly. Some other common jobs such as elevator operators, chimney sweeps, lamplighters and knocker-uppers have already disappeared. However, futurologist Thomas Frey predicts the birth of new roles such as augmented reality architects, locationists (who add the relevance of place to online communities), urban agriculturalists and… robot polishers (‘if we are going to have robots, they will inevitably need to be polished’).

New York – Paris – Peckham – Bromsgrove Derek and Rodney would indeed be millionaires today confirms a new study to mark the 25th anniversary of the Gold TV channel. Of course, their three-bed flat in Peckham would now almost deliver the seven figures on its own account; but add in a vintage Ford Capri and a couple of blue cut diamonds and the pair are worth almost £3m.  However, perhaps the bigger sign of our times is how Del Boy’s scams now look remarkably prescient. ‘Peckham Spring Water’ for instance reflects now established trends of drinking bottled tap water and buying locally sourced produce. Whereas ‘Trotters Ethnic Tours’ of Lower Edmonton at sunset and the Lee Valley viaduct are of course on every hipster’s to-do list.  However, inexplicably, the trading business is seemingly not doing so well. Companies House reveals that Trotters Independent Traders Limited – a ‘consumer goods company’ –  has now relocated to Bromsgrove, and has an aggregate nominal share value of £zero.

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