Commercial Property in 2020

2019 was a mixed year for commercial property with Brexit continuing to dominate the political and economic landscape.  So what is likely to have the biggest impact on the commercial property sector in 2020?  Unsurprisingly commentary suggests politics, economy, sustainability and technology.  Yes, the ‘B’ word will stick around for a long time.

Whilst the result of the general election should provide greater clarity and stability, Brexit and the US Presidential election will both have an impact on business in the UK in 2020.  As always, what is a threat to some, can be an opportunity for others.   In 2019 our commercial property team saw shorter contractual terms for leases, retail landlords reducing rent on renewal and an increase in tenant break rights which has in turn led to a greater balance in the landlord and tenant relationship.  Landlords and tenants, particularly in the retail sector are working more collaboratively as both acknowledge that what is good for the tenant’s business, is ultimately good for the landlord too.

Climate and sustainability is a hot topic that will continue to impact all areas of our lives, including property.  The government is looking to commercial property as it works towards its goal of net zero emissions by 2050.  Landlords should keep one eye on the government’s consultation on Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards which proposes amending the Energy Efficiency (Private Rented Property) (England and Wales) Regulations 2015 (SI 2015/962).  The goal is to require all non-domestic privately rented properties to achieve a minimum Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) rating of B or C by 1 April 2030.  There is likely to be a “cost effectiveness” test which will look at the expected value of savings on energy bills over a seven-year period.  The test will be met if that sum is equal to or greater than the cost of the measures required to meet the standard.

Technology and sustainability go hand in hand, and new working models mean that good quality, well connected office space is in demand.  Energy efficient, low carbon shared spaces with good connectivity to high speed broadband are increasingly desirable. Cornwall is a hive of activity when it comes to advances in technology and sustainable business and more clients are coming to us with creative business ideas where sustainability is ranked highly.  Cornwall is also making advances in geothermal energy and lithium exploration and we strongly believe that interesting and exciting times are ahead.    

Get in touch
If you would like some help with an issue relating to commercial property, our experienced team at Murrell Associates would be delighted to help.  You can contact Tamsin Mann on 01872 226990 or by emailing tamsin.mann@murrellassociates.co.uk.

So you are buying a pub?

The decline in the number of pubs over the last decade has been well publicised but encouragingly, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has recently published figures which show that the number of pubs has increased for the first time since 2010.  The UK ended March 2019 with 320 more pubs than the year before.  To put the figures in context, around 700 pubs had closed in the UK each year for the previous nine years.

Reasons cited for the change in fortunes include improvements in menus, offering accommodation and providing entertainment such as themed events and live music.  Former chancellor Philip Hammond also introduced relief on business rates for some pubs which may also have been a factor.

When buying a pub in England and Wales, particular care must be taken with the premises licence. A premises licence is a licence from the local authority for the sale of alcohol and the provision of other licensable activities. The owner or occupiers of a pub must have a premises licence in order to legally sell alcohol in England and Wales.

When buying a pub with an existing premises licence, you must ensure that you (a) fully understand the contents of the licence and (b) procure that the licence is transferred to you, together with the pub itself.

Your lawyer will obtain a copy of the premises licence from the seller and send it over to you for review. You must check that the range of licensable activities permitted by the licence, and the hours in which they are allowed, are suitable for your intended use of the property. You must also check that the conditions attached to the licence do not have an adverse impact on your plans for the property.

You should also check that the plans attached to the premises licence accord with the current layout of the property. If not, the property may not be trading in accordance with the premises licence. You should also consider whether you will need to vary the premises licence if you intend to make significant changes to the layout of the property.

It is also a good idea to speak with your local licensing, environmental health and police officers to see whether there have been any recent or ongoing licensing or enforcement issues with the property (e.g. noise abatement notices) which could affect your ability to vary the licence further down the line (e.g. to extend trading hours).

Checks should also be carried out with the licencing authority to ensure that the copy of the premises licence provided by the seller is the most up to date version of the licence, and that it hasn’t been revoked or surrendered. Confirmation should also be obtained from the licensing authority that there are no outstanding licensing applications, particularly any review of the premises licence. If a review of the premises licence is underway, this can result in things like opening hours being reduced or the imposition of more onerous conditions.

Enquiries should also be made of the seller to ensure that the holder of the premises licence has not died, lost capacity, become insolvent or (if a company) been dissolved as these circumstances can result in the premises licence lapsing.

Once it has been established that the licence is still in force and fits with your plans for the property, your lawyer will insert a provision in the contract requiring the seller to provide the necessary consent forms for the transfer of the premises licence to you.   These forms will be handed over on completion of the purchase of the property so that you can file them with the licencing authority to complete the transfer of the premises licence into your name.

Get in touch

If you would like some help with an issue relating to commercial property, our experienced team at Murrell Associates would be delighted to help.  You can contact Caroline Daly on 01872 226990 or by emailing caroline.daly@murrellassociates.co.uk.

Can you be fired for talking about politics at work?

So, the general election is happening next week.  Many people have very different views.  Some people are keen to express their views; others would prefer to keep their politics private.  There are even a few who would prefer not to hear any more about the whole thing!  According to a survey by Reed recruitment, 60% of employees think it is fine to talk about politics at work.  However, these discussions can create some tricky issues for employers.  Article 10 of the Human Rights Act provides for the right to freedom of expression.  However, discussing political views at work can create a lot of workplace animosity.  Staff may feel, disgruntled, bullied or even harassed.

There are a lot of questions that may be troubling a few employers around the country.    So, what are the legal implications of employees discussing politics at work?  What can employers do to police this and should they be doing so?

Workplace chat

Julia and Jasper are chatting loudly in the corner of an open plan office about the general election.  Julia is Spanish and worried about her future in post-Brexit Britain.  Jasper tells Julia that Brexit is a huge mistake caused by “stupid, racist people who do not understand the implications of their vote”. 

Jasper then circulates a link to a page on the Liberal Democrats website requesting staff to add their name to the “Stop Brexit” campaign.  The page calls Brexit a “national embarrassment” and “a disaster for the UK”.  He follows up his email by casually asking colleagues in his vicinity who they are going to vote for.

Kelly, who voted to leave, feels very intimidated and degraded by Jasper.  She complains to her manager that the office feels like a hostile and offensive place to work.

What are the risks for employers?

The immediate risk for the employer in this scenario is of an employment tribunal claim by Kelly.  If the situation is not handled carefully, she could ultimately resign and look to bring a claim of constructive unfair dismissal (provided that she has sufficient qualifying service).  She may also consider a claim of harassment, arguing that her political beliefs are a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.  Whether or not her political beliefs are protected, and her claim ultimately successful, would be a question for the employment tribunal to determine based on the circumstances.  In particular the tribunal would consider whether the belief is genuinely held, and not simply an opinion, clear, logical and worthy of respect in a democratic society.

What about Jasper?  If the employer decides to sanction Jasper, for example by issuing a written warning or dismissing under their disciplinary procedure, he may argue that no disciplinary offence has been committed and his fundamental right of freedom of expression has been infringed.  It is possible that he could look to bring his own claim of discrimination or harassment in the circumstances, or even constructive or unfair dismissal. 

On top of this, there is the general HR problem that, inter-employee relationships have been damaged.  Productivity is likely to be affected and, if employees no longer like their workplace, they may simply look to find a job elsewhere, damaging workforce stability.  

So, how should the employer handle this situation?

Ideally the employer will have a clear policy in place on expressing political views at work or will otherwise have made it clear to its workforce what is, and is not, regarded as acceptable.  This may be in the form of a specific policy statement, or it may be contained in other policies.  If the employer can point to an infringement of a rule or policy, it will be much easier, and fairer, to discipline Jasper.  If not, they will have to rely on general acceptable standards of workplace behaviour.  However, it will be open to Jasper to argue that he was not aware that he had doing anything wrong. 

The first step for the employer is to investigate Kelly’s grievance.  Kelly should be asked if she wishes to raise a formal complaint or is content to deal with the issue informally.  In the case of the former, it will be necessary for the employer to deal with the issue in accordance with their grievance procedure, but either way the employer will need to consider what action is appropriate to take in the circumstances.  If the employer’s position on the matter is very clear, they may consider it appropriate to discipline Jasper and issue a warning.  If the behaviour continues, it may then be appropriate to dismiss. If they have not already made their position on political discussions at work clear, the employer may consider it is not appropriate to discipline initially, but rather have a discussion, explain the problem and the potential future ramifications if the behaviour continues.  The employer should also ensure that its stance is clear and disseminated to the remainder of the workforce.    

Top Tips

  1. Set the tone.  Lay down clear guidelines as to the businesses stance on political chat at work, what is and is not acceptable in the workplace or in other forums connected with the employer.
  2. Train managers on acceptable standards so that they may disseminate this information to the rest of the workforce.
  3. Take complaints of staff seriously.  Always ascertain if the wish to raise a formal grievance and deal with the complaints in accordance with procedures.

 If you would like more information on the content of this article or employment law generally, please contact Melanie Rowe on 01872 227006 or by email at melanie.rowe@murrellassociates.co.uk