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Strong hands, self service and suntans

By Richard Pickering, Head of Futures Strategy

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A strong hand  The Conservative manifesto released last week contains 86 instances of the word ‘strong’, in case it was not clear that ‘strengthening her hand’ was something that Theresa May was concerned about. The word strong was also no doubt designed to throw shade on what the Conservatives might like voters to see as Jeremy Corbyn’s somewhat weaker hand. Following an admission by May that ‘The next five years are the most challenging that Britain has faced in my lifetime’, she goes on to set five priorities: a strong economy, Brexit, social divisions, an ageing society and fast-changing technology. For real estate, a reiteration of May’s commitment to build a million homes by 2020 is joined by a further 500,000 over the following two years. Mansion blocks, mews houses and terraces find favour, as does protecting the Green Belt, simplified CPOs and fixed-term social housing.

Service scenarios  A report by CEBR released this week points to losses of up to £36bn (2% of GDP) arising from the impact of Brexit-related service access restrictions for UK businesses. Service exports could potentially fall by 15% states the report. A third of the hypothesised losses are associated with financial services, whilst IT & telecoms (biggest proportional loss) and transport are also highlighted under negative impacts. Meanwhile, insurance and pension services, which have higher exports outside the EU are forecast to remain robust in the event of loss of access to the single market. The report acknowledges the upside scenarios if the UK can maximise access to the single market by whatever means.

iCashier  Do you find yourself using the self-service checkout, even when a cashier is available? This is the thin end of the digital automation wedge which sits at the heart of the fourth industrial revolution. Various studies have shown that 30-40% of roles are at high risk of automation over the next 20 years. However, a recent paper by Cornerstone Capital reports that half of US retail jobs could be automated within 10 years. Cashiers (73% of whom are women) are noted as being at particularly high-risk from automated check-out procedures, and this is likely to be exacerbated as new tech such as RFID becomes popular. Using technology to reduce in-store costs will have a dampening effect on the advantage of online. However, the potential to automate does not mean job losses will be implemented across the board. The report points to different approaches between convenience strategies (where employees per square foot are expected to decrease) and experience strategies (where the opposite is expected).

Scorcher  Summer has arrived, prompting the usual sights of packed pebble beaches, red necklines and paddling pools. As the mercury hits 28 degrees this week, most of us look expectantly towards the Bank Holiday weekend. However, others are already conspicuously absent from their desks, with studies showing that summer brings with it extended lunch breaks, increased absenteeism, and hangovers. The source of this latest UK heatwave appears to be what is termed ‘a Spanish Plume’; provoking heated discussions in Brussels over whether the free movement of such weather phenomena will be curtailed as part of the Brexit negotiations. Meanwhile, applying EU provenance rules, the UK stands ready to export: London peasoupers, parky mornings from Yorkshire, and permanent dreich from Dumfries. Their loss.

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