It is arguable as to whether Lord Mandelson has ever figured particularly highly on anybody’s Christmas list but it is a fair bet that he won’t be receiving many season’s greetings from the commercial property sector this year.
The Baron of Hartlepool and Foy, as he is known to his servants, has long been a controversial figure in the world of politics, so his appointment as Business Secretary by a beleaguered Prime Minister raised more than a few eyebrows.
Having been forced to resign from the cabinet on two separate occasions as well as being labelled the ‘Prince of Darkness’ over his Machiavellian tendencies and advocacy for spin, he was always facing an uphill battle to convince the electorate at large and, more pertinently, the business community that he was the right man for the job.
It has not been the most auspicious of starts on either fronts.
First of all he found himself embroiled in the unseemly ‘Yachtgate’ saga and then he decided to publicly espouse the tremendous benefits to the economy of repealing rates relief on empty commercial property.
In the first instance our favourite lord was not the villain of the piece - that honour fell to his old chum George Osborne - although the fact that he was on the Russian billionaire’s yacht at all has raised a number of questions about influence and that long-standing albatross around his neck of good judgement.
On the second issue - that of empty property rates relief - he managed to alienate one of the most influential and important business communities all on his own by stating that the move would encourage landlords to slash their rents which in turn would offer a timely boost to struggling small businesses.
The trouble is that it hasn’t and it won’t. Not only that but we have reached a situation where developers are backing away from speculative development - a key driver for any economy - and in some cases such as with the old West Works at Longbridge, developers are now pulling down perfectly serviceable buildings to avoid a debilitating tax bill.
Fortunately for the commercial property sector there may be light at the end of the tunnel.
Almost every prediction possible has been made about the Pre-Budget Report but a recurring theme has been the possibility that the Chancellor may reintroduce empty property rates relief or at least introduce a 50 per cent rate - a move likely to bring a smile to the face of everybody involved in development although a Christmas card may be a step too far.