It’s time for a break…

For the first time in many years my office is going to be closed from today until the New Year! So as we approach the Christmas break I have decided to have a little break from blogging too…

Not for long though – just until we return from our Christmas and New Year Holiday… which I reckon is going to be on 4th January 2011.

My blog will probably have a new look on my return – although I expect the main story-lines and grumblings to remain!

So, thanks for following the blog in 2010 (and before!) – I wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

See you all in the New Year…

HS2 – an idea from China….

I blogged earlier about the possibility of a HS2 stop for Nottingham – and there are concerns about the time it takes for a train to stop. Have a look at the video here for an ingenious solution from China…

HS2 gathers momentum

As you may know if you read my blog, I am a keen advocate of the new HS2 line – conditionally that it stops at Nottingham, or very close to. The line has been in the news again this week as protestors in the South have been arguing over the detail of the route. Some of the route has been changed as a result of these protests.

The critical thing for the East Midlands is to make sure we are on the map shown here. Manchester and Leeds have secured their places – as has Birmingham. But a station at Nottingham / Derby could potentially cut the London journey time to 50-55 minutes.

This line is still many years away – and the detail is important. But we really do need to fight for a station. The line is certain to come through our neighbourhood anyway – the worst thing would be for us to watch the trains whizz by?

The finer details of the route can be thrashed out – no one wants it in their back yard, but we have plenty of room to the west where this 22nd Century transport system could go? The impact on our lives will be massive and I see the benefits considerably outweighing the downside.

I just wonder what we are doing about it…

Can the cold weather improve service?

No – it seems not.

It might be cold in our office but we carry on!

I do accept that we have had some exceptional weather over the last few weeks – the sort Alpine Ski resorts see every year.

For many years I have had British Gas three star cover at home, but we changed it last year when our boiler was replaced. We didn’t use British Gas – they were around twice the price of a local private plumbing firm. I have no issue with this – we simply chose the cheaper firm – the boiler specification was the same and twelve months on it still works. The private form offered us a four year servicing deal which we took. But I left in place the British Gas cover for electrical appliances and plumbing (except for the boiler). Three weeks ago we noticed a leak near a radiator. We called British Gas. They initially adopted the stance that this might not be covered as we no longer had the boiler covered! No matter that we have been paying for the last twelve months for such cover. They then decided that it probably was covered, but they could not prioritise it as urgent – due to the unprecedented level of calls they were getting.

I guess that someone without heat is probably more important than my little leak! But that’s not really the point?

Then on the Radio yesterday I heard that the major airlines (BA, Virgin and Air Canada) were asking people not to ring them for updated flight information. Joe Public was to enquire on their web site. Except that their web sites were being hit so hard that most had crashed!

It seems to me that we do have bad weather – I’m not sure it is “unprecedented”. It’s cold and snowy.

Service providers need to staff up and resource things accordingly. These organisations are very quick to make sure their phones and web sites are working when they want our cash. When it goes a bit pear shaped it seems we are not very important…

(I have cancelled my contract with British Gas)

A very different Directors Meeting

We had a very different meeting of our Board of Directors two weeks ago. I have just about recovered! Not that it was difficult (more ‘challenging’) but there was so much to take in.

Some of the Innes England team

We had employed the services of John Green from The Green Light Partnership in Nottingham. He is not a consultant – but rather a facilitator. We worked through lots of different ‘exercises’ – but these were not games. It was a long day – with few breaks.

After a very long process we have ended with a very interesting ‘road-map’ of the next five years for the business – something we have never really had before. The map is our collective thoughts and ideas about where we want to take the business – and the challenges.

The process of getting to the road-map was really interesting – and was not at all contentious. We all had very different ideas and priorities but by some skilful manoeuvring and some science the map was agreed and printed.

Perhaps not unsurprisingly the key issue for us (as most services firms) was the attraction and retention of talented people. We have some now, but we are always looking for more. We have few other assets so this really is key to our ongoing success.

It turned out to be a hugely enjoyable day. Subsequently we have agreed a different format for our future Board meetings – which now includes some of the key things we have agreed to do moving forwards. We will still do the ‘financials’ but some other things are now firmly in focus. And I have a new job – I now have responsibility for Business Development across the firm. This will be a challenge – which I am really looking forward to!

Roll on 2011….

A green Christmas?

I have managed pretty much to avoid blogging about Christmas so far, but I now feel moved to do so. I am working up to doing some shopping too; I might just wait a couple more days though…

I just wonder how green Christmas is? Not very I suspect.

Firstly there is all of that packaging. This is both of the gifts themselves but also the bag from the shops or the cardboard from Amazon! Then we wrap the pressies in lovely paper – around 83 square kilometres of the stuff – in context that would just about cover the whole of Guernsey…

Then there’s the billion or so Christmas cards we send each year (The average is 17 each so you can judge your own popularity).

What about the 7.1 million Christmas trees we chop down and then discard?

And then there’s all that electricity for those lights – especially the ones in my photograph.

Bah Humbug!

Springsteen – at his best!

I have seen Sprinsteen twice – recently on his Seeger Sessions tour on a cold winter night in Sheffield, but before that in 1993 at The Milton Keynes Bowl. He was brilliant on both occasions – although I went with low expectations frst time round.

I bought his new album from HMV a couple of weeks ago, but when I got home ready to burn onto itunes the CD’s were missing! I emailed HMV who were really helpful and posted out a new CD. The Post Office managed to take eight days to deliver them, but that’s not HMV’s fault!

But I digress. The ‘new’ album is brilliant. It’s brilliant partly because it’s not really new. It might be his 17th studio album, but the material is from the ‘Darkness on the edge of town’ sessions 1976-78. And this is a great period in music – probably my favourite. These were formative years…

The music has some of the late 70′s influences – including punk. There is a superb cover of Patti Smith’s Because The Night – which I featured in my top ten songs of all time just over a year ago here. I hadn’t realised that the song was written by Smith and Springsteen – so ‘cover’ is perhaps the wrong word!

Springsteen has said that the sounds are “Lean”, “angry” and “relentless”. This pretty much sums it up!

So, if you are looking for a Christmas present for someone – or just yourself – I can whole heartedly recommend this as a perfect solution!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Bruce Springsteen, , The Promise

More bad news slips out for property owners and occupiers

In a blaze of silence the Government slipped out a letter this week about Business Rates to the Chief Financial Officers of the English Billing Authorities. The Department of Communities and Local Government advise the Local Authorities that they will “want to update the information they provide to local business ratepayers on their websites and through other channels to reflect this announcement“.

It's no good being empty!

This is not the sort of stuff the Coalition want on the Six O’Clock News as you will see. In fact it is much better if your local Council get this information out as they suggest. I wonder if the Government might have made the announcement had it been good news?

Before the Election the Tories quietly dropped an earlier Pledge to do away with the Empty Property Rates which have been hurting Landlords so badly for the last few years. I blogged about their U-turn here. This presumption that landlords are somehow not letting their property until the better times come back is, frankly, insulting. I have no clients who are asking me to keep their property vacant…

There has been a glimmer of hope for landlords of smaller shops (those with a Rateable Value of below £18,000) – the relief was has been in place for the last two years but was to be reviewed in April 2011. Thus at present the small shops, offices and industrial units are free of rates whilst empty – if the RV is below £18,000. Above that, after three or six months you pay 100% of the rates.

The letter now ‘leaked’ has advised Local Authorities that the £18,000 threshold is to be removed from April 2011. It will revert to £2,600 – the equivalent in simple terms of somewhere with a rent of £50 per week.

And in case that wasn’t enough the Rate Multiplier (the amount by which you multiply the Rateable Value to get the Rates Payable) is going up by 4.6% – the RPI for September. It was rather convenient that the RPI was at this level three months ago?

I was wondering whether there might be some good news on the horizon for property. Not this week it seems….

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business Tagged Coalition Government, Department of Communities and Local Government, Empty Property Relief, , RV

We sponsor Art!

You might recall from my blog a few weeks ago that I had been at the Nottingham Contemporary meeting Sir Paul Smith and listening to his really excellent talk. I blogged about it here.

A few days earlier I had been on an accompanied tour of the Gallery with Alex Farquharson – the Director as part of an Invest in Nottingham event. Part of the event was an appeal for Sponsors of the Gallery.

As you may know from my blogs I spend some time in the Gallery – and the excellent cafe. I decided on the spot that my firm should consider sponsorship – and I was delighted my Directors agreed. As it turned out my firm have become the very first sponsor – which is a great honour.

The Contemporary is a very important part of Nottingham life. It has, without doubt, put Nottingham on the map. It is a challenging building (I still don’t like the external envelope!). It has provided us with some challenging art – and some truly brilliant art.

It does make you think – in a time when we perhaps don’t think enough – as we are too busy. I spend time in the Cafe – which I rate highly. It’s an easy place to spend time at. As is the Gallery generally.

And to that extent we thought it well worth supporting – and I’m personally looking forward to the pre-show exhibitions and special events.

We are pleased that Nottingham has something as culturally iconic as the Contemporary that we can support. We are very lucky to have it. My next job is to persuade some of my [luddite] fellow Directors to come and have a look!

What next for retail?

It seems that the internet now accounts for around 8% of our purchases. Or 92% buy stuff in shops?

But we seem to have a lot of vacant shops. Nationally it is estimated to be around 14%. Clearly this is an average – some areas fare worse.

I had blogged previously about Nottingham – currently celebrating a UK position of 6. Behind The West End, Glasgow, Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. So not a bad spot to be in looking at the other Cities ahead of us. But we do have some vacant shops – especially on the peripheral parts of the City – notable in Hockley. During the good times this was a great place to be – away from the prime City rents, small shops and lots of bohemian small stores. But lots have gone. And I am not sure there is anything on the horizon to get them back.

The payment of Rates on shops after three months vacant hurts landlords. It hurts to the extent that they will often do almost any deal to get someone in and trading. So on this basis why are the shops still empty? Because the demand side of the equation is simply not there. There are no tenants.

But Nottingham also has to keep alert – we have competition and complacency will costs us dearly. Derby has a modern Westfield Centre, Leicester has a fantastic John Lewis. But Birmingham is also a threat – it has some really key retailers – including Selfridges. They are an hour away. Fosse Park is even closer.

I was in Nottingham at the weekend – John Lewis stayed open until 7pm on Saturday. House of Fraser until 6.30pm – but there were very few other retailers open at this time in the Victoria Centre…

Nottingham needs to raise its game. We need to attract new stores (why do I have to go to Leicester to a ‘proper’ Apple Store?). We need a new shopping centre at Broadmarsh – the short term upgrade is only part of the solution.

The real reason I think the High Street can survive – some stuff I ordered on-line has not arrived – courtesy of the Post Office – a familiar theme emerging?