Melanie Leech is the CEO of the British Property Federation (BPF) and she has been an angry worried woman for some time now. What a rubbish time for her to be the chief representative for commercial landlords in the UK. Fate has dealt her a dodgy hand, as she could have picked virtually any other time in recent history to take the gig. Yesterday (Thursday 6 May) she was very uppity, saying:
“The moratoriums must end and normal market conditions must return. The future of our town centres depends on this – the commercial property sector requires certainty of income to create the modern, fit-for-purpose town centres that will play a major role in economic, social and environmental recovery."
We are bound to say: "Well, yes Mel, of course you're going to say that, but if NTI were to list the number of retailers and casual dining outlets that have gone to wall over the past 15 months we would need a new server and an infinite number of monkeys to enter them."
Ms Leech was quoted at the end of a major press release published by the BPF yesterday. Every word of it could have been typed by just a few of the above-mentioned monkeys who have just glanced at the business headlines of the Daily Express over the past year, and all of it urged the Government to end the moratoriums on evictions and other enforcement action in June 2021. You and I know this is tantamount to urging your Mum to let you have a Yorkie 15 minutes before your tea, but of course they have to say these things, if only to be part of the 'dance of life'.
Drew McNeill is Head of Public Relations at the BPF (rubbish job, Drew) and he was also pretty cross: " ...well-capitalised businesses who have traded throughout the pandemic continue to withhold much-needed rental income from the millions of pensioners and savers who invest in commercial property and own our high streets. This abuse must end now."
Abuse, Drew? Really? If these 'well-capitalised businesses' have been coached at all in how to get the best deal in a one-sided situation, they could not have done better than to look at the 'Landlords' Handbook' over the past quarter decade.
Drew's piece did demonstrate a degree of empathy for tenants, as he went on to say that property owners’ support for the hardest hit tenants in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors will continue until they are back on their feet – empty premises are a blight on our town centres and shopping centres, and are as damaging to property owners as they are to other businesses and local people. He just doesn't like what he considers to be the chancers who are taking advantage of the pandemic and not paying their rent or, horror of horrors, negotiating new terms at a time the pendulum has swung in their favour.
What exactly is it that you want, Drew?
"We want further reassurance given to businesses through an enhanced Code of Practice backed by the Government, with a clear framework that can be applied consistently to each unique lease negotiation on a case-by-case basis. This would be particularly helpful where there is an imbalance of negotiating power, to protect small and independent businesses."
But you didn't seem to want this when the landlords had the upper hand in the market place, charging rents that made eyes water and jaws drop.
To give Drew his due he did say the BPF is willing to support a targeted, time-limited extension of the moratoriums for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to reach agreement on their rent arrears accrued to June 2021, with the assistance of an enhanced Code of Practice. But will the Government listen? Would they rather let capitalism take its course?
Over to you, tenants.