We in the NTI newsroom don't know if Kwasi Karteng's family had to self-isolate at the weekend leaving him at a loose end, or if he is finding it difficult to sleep having watched the Olympics until the wee hours, but he and his musings dominate the business pages this morning (Monday 9 August).
We in our glorious sector will hang on his every word as he vows to put a free market approach at the heart of the post-Covid-19 recovery. There was ample news last week of the tapering of furlough and big property owners such as Hammersons turning shopping malls into park-n-rides out to the country, but all eyes are now forward as the economy is weaned off the massive state support it received during the pandemic.
A national enterprise strategy is being drawn up by officials to encourage small businesses and entrepreneurs, and will be unveiled later this year. Mr Kwarten is suposed to be the most 'Thatcher-like' of the cabinet members and he operates in a free market tradition. He is said to be dusting off a range of policies such as a new infrastructure bank and the Future Fund - that will take stakes in fast-growth companies - and will see state funds used increasingly in the private sector.
“We’ve got to give the private sector a large amount of space to be innovative and creative,” Kwasi said.
"Does this include giving us latitude in the paying of taxes and being able to sack lazy employees?" asked Charlie Chupper who runs a fleet of garages in the north-east of England, sitting beside plumbing entrepreneur Penny Dufrais who nodded so enthusiastically at this notion that her plaits took flight, almost taking one of Charlie's eyes out.
"No. It means this Government will refine regulations to free companies to invest, providing much more regulatory certainty”. At this stage Penny's plaits stopped circling the room and Charlie looked a lot less chipper. It was then that Kwasi said that flexible working was here to stay, but suggested that workers who returned to the office were more likely to be promoted. This comment came amid concern that some departments of the civil service remain deserted with employees not returning to their desks.
"Seriously, it is very odd," said one senior civil servant who wanted both his name and pyjamas to remain anonymous, "it is like a normal lunch three hours".
"Do you mean lunch hour?" a journo questioned him.
"Hmm, what?" said the civil servant (called Jeremy).
Kwasi said that those who returned to the office were likely to see their careers advance more quickly. “If you look at human organisations people do build relationships and build networks through face to face contact. People who come into office may have an advantage in that,” he said.
They also have more affairs, better coffee and forge friendships out of which sexual relationships can be fostered. But why should employees return to shabby places of work? According to Colliers, a leading property agency, one in ten London offices could become unusable in two years unless landlords invest heavily to bring them up to new environmental standards.
About 20 million square feet of London workspace currently falls short of minimum energy efficiency standards that will be introduced in England and Wales in 2023. Failure to upgrade could lead to office blocks becoming valueless stranded assets, but the costs of doing so could run into billions of pounds at a time when landlords are grappling with the Coronavirus pandemic and uncertainty about the future of work.
It is quite a conundrum, one that the Colliers team chose to chew over whilst enjoying tea in the garden and a visit from their friend Graham.