It was a bad day for Dave (38) of Wimbledon yesterday. His Portuguese Podengo (Cristiano) was run over by a tractor and then reversed back onto by Dana in a four-by-four who had witnessed the incident and rushed to his aid. Dave returned home to discover his house had been ransacked, the thieves escaping with his vintage collection of 'O' gauge Live Steam Hornby engines, acquired over 17 years via the Hornby Affiliate Programme and lovingly restored over countless solitary evenings.
When the police came to the door to answer his plaintiff calls they were coincidentally accompanied by his 'uncle' George who wanted to tell him in person that his favourite Gran had been abducted by organ harvesters and was last seen strapped to a dinghy in the middle of the English Channel. Dave collapsed back into a chair upon hearing the news, its legs snapped and he fell awkwardly breaking his hip, rendering him incapable of attending a socially distanced interview this week for his dream job at the Philatelic Bureau, leaving the opportunity wide open for his arch rival and nemesis 'Stamping Sam Samson'. He was admitted to hospital for emergency surgery, thus missing a call from a national radio station for its top prize of an accumulated £48,000, having only to answer a question about speckled Ecuadorian thrushes his twitching over 28 years had perfectly prepared him for. Dave is also a Bristol City fan who just caught the Championship result from Vicarage Road before the anaesthetic kicked in.
Yet Dave (upon regaining consciousness) was still able to count his lucky stars that he is not a commercial landlord, whose own bad fortune will doubtless be getting significantly worse over the coming months. The much-harried business department and the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government have been talking to the property, retail and hospitality sectors over how best to extend the moratorium on landlords’ ability to evict tenants over unpaid rent. It is reported that freelance mediator and 'woman-of-the-week', Jackie Weaver has been bussed in to oversee conversations.
With accumulated rent arrears now cresting £4.5 billion and no queue around the corner to take up closed premises, the hospitality and leisure industry is not buoyed by the news that pubs and restaurants will be allowed to reopen in April, for outdoor service only. Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers whose views have adorned your screen before, said it would be impossible to make any money under those circumstances, and predicted that fewer than 20 per cent of businesses would reopen.
“Many businesses are going to be right up against it now,” said Urban. “The most frustrating thing is that the Treasury, for whatever reason, hasn’t felt able to guide in terms of what support is coming. We’re trying to deal with banks and creditors and bondholders, and we’ve got nothing to forward guide us. It's like there is a pandemic raging through the community (or somefing (sic)) with as many opinions as there are both scientists and economists. We need someone to get a semblance of an act together."
It has been almost a year since commercial landlords were barred from evicting tenants, as well as issuing winding-up petitions or statutory demands. This is their second favourite pastime after chasing ginger red animals over the countryside, supported only by 30 friends on horseback and a few dogs. Is there a glimmer of hope for them in the fact that significant changes may require primary legislation to be passed. When the moratorium was last extended, in December, the Government vowed not to do it again, although the prolonged lockdown has led to a rethink and the system has in-built more u-turns than the plumbing of an Italian hotel etched out of a rockface.
One set of landlords who have already swallowed their share of bad news is those renting to the Karen Millen up-chic fashion house. Boohoo swooped in for them and Coast in 2019, followed by Warehouse and Oasis last year. Boohoo appear not to be playing fair and are acquiring customer data from such brands, meaning its recent acquisitions will enable it to market its goods to an older, middle-class audience who have money, boredom and yo-yoing hip sizes in equal measure, as well as access to the Internet.
The fabulously spandexed Ms Millen, who is about to enjoy the adventure of a seventh consecutive decade on the planet has said there is a “vulgarity” of the ultra-cheap fashion sold by the chain, but there is no official line yet on whether this opinion will change given her name now appears on the home page of Boohoo. She admits that when she sold the eponymously-named business she believed that online shopping would not take off because people valued the experience of physical shopping too much. “Clearly I was wrong about that,” she laughs. Her former employees and shareholders didn't entirely get the joke, but they admitted she did look good in a one-shoulder silver catsuit.
Away from the shops it appears that the plunder of Britain's big four audit firms will up a gear in the weeks to come, when (we in the NTI newsroom are given to believe) Deloitte unveils the sale of its restructuring arm to Teneo, a strategic consulting firm which advises many of the UK's biggest companies. Teneo is backed by the private equity firm CVC Capital Partners, and is shuffling the papers at the end of many conversations ahead of an announcement. Could it be in the coming week and will they beat the purchase of the restructuirng arm of KPMG to it? All will be revealed.
Happy Sunday and a very happy Valentines day to those of you who like nothing more than to celebrate the murder in 1929 of seven members and associates of Chicago's North Side Gang. We should send their families a card.