As I See It: Terry Murden
The papers and airwaves have been full of dire warnings of food shortages if we don’t get a deal with the EU. Supplies will be hit, supermarket shelves will be stripped bare and prices will rise. Or so we’re told.
Before anyone starts panic buying, a TV series tackling the issue of Britain’s rubbish tells us that British shoppers throw away so much food that it’s being used to fuel new energy plants. One firm alone recycled 500,000 tonnes of food waste last year, enough to power 60,000 homes. More than 20 supermarkets are supplying an innovative cafe business with unwanted but perfectly edible food.
So which is it? Are we about to suffer food shortages, or should we be doing something to stop throwing so much away?
I’m struggling to buy into the empty shelves warnings, fuelled by politically-driven campaigners who face having egg (even freshly laid eggs) on their faces. It is surely not in anyone’s interest to see food supplies stranded on both sides of the Channel.
I wrote here a few weeks back that one thing that might save us, and give us the deal that most seem to want would be a recession in Europe, and in particular a recession in Germany.
Put simply, Britain is one of Germany’s biggest customers. A no-deal Brexit with customs barriers, regulatory diversion and uncertainty around immigration will cost the German economy around 1% of GDP with potentially 200,000 job losses. If there are tailbacks of juggernauts at British ports on 1 November, then there will be similar queues in Hamburg as well as in the Dutch and French ports. It is simply an unsustainable and, frankly, unthinkable state of affairs.
So what has happened since my musings on a German recession? Well, the Germans have become increasingly worried that it will happen. And after all the refusals to budge on the withdrawal agreement there are now going to be talks this week with Boris Johnson.
At risk of being proved wrong by the Yellowhammer warnings of No Deal armageddon we have to consider the government’s insistence that these papers present a worst case scenario and are out of date because so much progress has been made on contingency planning in recent weeks. This does seem a tad optimistic during a time when many officials have been on Europe’s beaches rather than in meeting rooms, but we have Brexit supremo Michael Gove’s word that we’re almost ready for the big break on 31 October.
Mind you, he also told Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in an earlier TV documentary about waste that he was about to take action to tackle the plastic problem. Not sure much progress has been made on that, which doesn’t augur well for the Brexit plan.
Space: the city’s frontier
There were plenty of headlines this week around the latest plans for a hotel in Edinburgh’s west end, but few picked up on Knight Frank’s alarm over this latest office conversion.
Knight Frank accepts that the city needs more hotels, but is concerned that using redundant office space to accommodate more tourists is creating another problem for the city: a shortage of space to meet demand for companies wanting to expand or move in.
Some might say this is a nice problem to have, but it is also pushing up rents and – more worryingly for Edinburgh – encouraging potential incomers to look elsewhere. Edinburgh broke into the top 20 global cities in terms of prime office rents and rental growth earlier this year, which will make it attractive to investors despite Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. But a report from CBRE in April noted that the gap between cities across the UK in terms of their attractiveness is narrowing.
Add in the need to house a growing population and the endless demand for student accommodation and Edinburgh is clearly bursting at the seams. A number of long-standing gap sites are gradually being filled, including New Waverley and Fountainbridge, with Haymarket to come, so the only solution is to expand beyond the centre and extend the city boundaries. Parabola’s proposed development at the Gyle is long overdue and the time must be nearing when office expansion at the airport finally gets lift-off.
Greene King deal
No one predicted the Greene King deal which hit the wires at tea-time on Monday (one of Scotland’s so-called live business news websites still hadn’t reported it by early on Tuesday). As such there was little time to get a proper assessment of what it means.
First impressions are that Hong Kong’s richest man has taken advantage of sterling’s slump to pick up the pubs and brewery chain at a good price.
Beer campaigners CAMRA rushed out a statement regretting that ownership of Britain’s biggest listed pubs group, but it may be issuing another if rumours that the deal will lead to a swathe of pub closures is confirmed.
Trevor Greetham of Royal London Asset Management reckons the deal is an asset stripping exercise and the new owner will be putting a few up for sale.