Theresa May's election pledges have left UK plc dancing uneasily, the property merger that's easy on the eye and Travis Perkins's tough time

Mark Kleinman
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Theresa May Resumes The Conservative Party Election Campaign
Theresa May called the snap election in April (Source: Getty)

Here's a 2017 election teaser for you: what links Jeremy Corbyn to Moya Greene, John Pettigrew and Liv Garfield, the chief executives of Royal Mail, National Grid and Severn Trent?

Answer: they’re the public company bosses waking up this morning with the greatest sense of anxiety after last night’s stunning exit poll. After all, under a Corbyn-led Labour government, their businesses would be heading for renationalisation.

While that prospect remains some way off, this election campaign has from most perspectives been a sobering one for Britain’s business community.

Even an overall majority for Theresa May’s Conservatives won’t have traditional Tory free market enthusiasts rejoicing, after the buffeting they took in the party’s extraordinarily interventionist manifesto.

Read more: Live: General Election 2017 results - when, where and who has won

At lunch this week, one of the City’s top Tory backers argued that May had presided over the most anti-business campaign in the party’s recent history. More worryingly, he was less than convinced that a decisive victory would persuade her to change course.

Will she heed words like that from her most financially generous private sector backers? A feeble pledge this week to establish a new Board of Trade wasn’t included in the Tory manifesto, implying it was concocted during an emergency brainstorming session aimed at rebuilding relations with captains of industry.

May, or her successor, will have to do better than that. Her principal engagement with the private sector since her 2016 coronation has been a handful of dinners with chief executives and their spouses.

Read more: Pound picks up after diving on exit poll showing Tories set to lose seats

She made it clear that David Cameron’s Business Advisory Group was of no interest to her, and the idea of taking plane-loads of company bosses on overseas trade missions has been met with revulsion.

Whoever is in 10 Downing Street in a month’s time, their approach to running the country will have to change if ties between business and government – an essential fulcrum of a healthy economy – are to be repaired.

Easy on the eye

The most eye-catching merger of the week will have slipped under the radars of many: easyProperty’s tie-up with GPEA, owner of the upmarket estate agency chain Fine & Country.

At a stroke, it transforms the hitherto-struggling easyProperty into a business with access to 5,000 agents – far more than the online market leader, Purplebricks, whose shares have soared since their 2015 listing.

No surprise, then, that the newly formed e-Prop Services will, I’m told, pursue a flotation of its own within nine months.

Read more: This online agent just secured the internet's biggest ever property deal

This week’s deal leaves Martin Hughes’ Toscafund with 37 per cent of the company – a stake which could be far more valuable if the convergence between digital and traditional real estate sales is exploited effectively.

With other players, like eMoov and HouseSimple, pursuing their own funds for expansion, the landgrab in online estate agency is about to get even more intense.

Travis’s tough time

It’s a tough time to be in the builders’ merchant trade – and it will get tougher. That was the message echoing loudly from Travis Perkins’ last set of results.

So the next chairman of the FTSE-250 company is going to have to steer it through potentially volatile times.

We should know who soon who that person is going to be. I’m told that Travis Perkins’ board has hired Spencer Stuart, the search firm, to identify Robert Walker’s successor – and that talks are well-advanced.

Read more: Travis Perkins' share price heads south as profits plunge

The chief executive, John Carter, has declared the macroeconomic outlook for the UK as “mixed”.

Travis Perkins, demoted from the FTSE 100 a few months ago, is preparing investors for more challenging times. Its shares, which have slipped 15 per cent during the last 12 months, have further to fall.The next chairman will need to arrive wearing his – or her – hard hat.

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