Are the wheels falling off the East Devon growth wagon?

This is necessarily a somewhat technical summary of why Owl thinks EDDC has got its recent past and future jobs and housing numbers terribly wrong, and attempts to pinpoint why this is. If the assumptions below are correct East Devon cannot hope to match new jobs to housing number increases and hence to aspirational growth figures.

It has huge implications for the district – not least Cranbrook and Axminster, where huge housing growth does not appear to correlate with very modest job growth.

CURRENT STATISTICAL TREND 258 JOBS/YEAR
EDDC’s 2015 aspiration 950 jobs/year
EDDC’s “Jobs-led policy on scenario” 549 jobs/year
Ash Futures (Experian) “Upper end” 309 jobs/year
Ash Futures “more likely” scenario 200-234 jobs/year

Evidence from the first set of job growth statistics published by EDDC since the adoption of the local Plan are running at less than half the number used to justify the housing development target. This is only one quarter of EDDC’s aspiration to create one job per new household or 950/year.

A “Jobs-led Policy On” aggressive growth strategy lies at the heart of EDDC’s Local Plan for 2013 to 2031.

Consultants were employed to create a number of scenarios forecasting growth in jobs. They ranged from 162-191 jobs/year for forecasts based on past trends to a top estimate for above average “jobs led” growth of 309 jobs/year. This top estimate would justify a housing target of 13,050 for the period.

One of these consultants, Ash Futures, gave cogent arguments as to why this figure, in their opinion, lay at the upper end of likely growth and proposed a more modest, more realistic, set of growth assumptions generating 200-234 jobs/year. This more likely scenario was never converted from a jobs forecast to a housing assessment but it would have been just a bit higher than the 10,512 figure based on past trends. All these forecasts took account of demographic changes, migration into the region and economic growth.

Ignoring this, EDDC decided to add a further 240 jobs/year to the upper end 309 figure in a new “policy on” scenario to provide a total forecast of 549 jobs/year. (Something to do with Cranbrook but the details of this and whether there is any double counting remains a mystery). This 549 job/year figure was ultimately used to justify the final 17,100 minimum housing target for the 18 year period of the Plan adopted in 2016.

The plan requires a minimum average build of 950 houses/year. EDDC’s aspiration is to combine this with the creation of one job for every house built. But this demonstrates a complete failure to understand demographics and household formation. The need for houses and the need for jobs is not a simple equation of one with the other.

Papers attached to EDDC’s Strategic Planning Committee for 29 January 2019 (see footnote) contain data for East Devon employment covering 2009 to 2016. The explanatory text says: “It is recognised that it is an aspiration of Members [surely not every Councillor?] to deliver one job for each new home across the district but since the adopted Local Plan does not set out to deliver this it is not considered appropriate to formally monitor the relationship between the delivery of homes and the delivery of jobs.”

Here’s why – the real evidence, from the data, is of jobs growing at an annual rate of only 258 jobs/year.

This figure confirms the more modest forecasts presented by Ash Futures and, inconveniently for EDDC, is less than half of that used to justify the “Jobs-led Policy On” housing targets. It is only a quarter of the one job per house aspiration of “Members”.

Where does the 258 job/year trend come from? It is the gradient of the best fit linear regression trend line to the data given the Strategic Planning Committee and shown in the graph below. The full data source is referenced in the footnote.

This is a relatively small sample; and the extent of the fluctuations in the recorded number of jobs from year to year can be seen in the graph. For the technically minded the correlation coefficient of the trend line is 0.6, which is quite a strong one.

All the job number quoted above are for “full time equivalent” jobs (FTE).

Owl has been fortunate to find from the same official source as used by EDDC a set of estimates of the total number of jobs in East Devon which extends the time series to 2017. The significance of this is that the total number of jobs in East Devon fell between 2016 and 2017 and so we can expect the same to happen with FTEs. As a result Owl feels even more confident that the trend line shown above, despite the sample size, reflects what is actually happening.

The Local Plan has been in preparation since 2002 and EDDC has been following a growth policy for many years. So, although 2013 marks the formal start of the Local Plan, there is no statistical evidence to consider 2013 a “turning point” for job growth, though it does look to be an outlier.

With EDDC’s plan to build houses running ahead of creating the jobs needed for a sustainable community, just who are we building all these houses for?

Isn’t it time to cool the building programme, not ramp it up as Owl fears is being planned in the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan?

One of the key architects to all this is Councillor Paul Diviani. When asked at a recent council meeting why East Devon is taking all this development replied: “Because we have got the land, and we are good at it”.

Footnote: The combined minutes, agenda and reports of the Strategic Planning Committee with the job data for 2009 to 2016 on page 116 can be found here:
http://eastdevon.gov.uk/media/2744658/290119strategicplanningcombinedagenda_opt.pdf

Flybe – trouble at the top

“A battle over the cut-price sale of Flybe will gather pace next week after the airline’s biggest shareholder demanded the sacking of its chairman.

Sky News has learnt that Hosking Partners wrote to Flybe on Friday to requisition an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) aimed at ousting Simon Laffin, the City grandee who has chaired Flybe for five years.

The fund management firm run by Jeremy Hosking, a prominent investor, wants to install Eric Kohn, an experienced aviation executive, in Mr Laffin’s place.

A statement confirming the EGM request is expected to be made by Flybe to the London Stock Exchange as soon as Monday morning….”

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/jan/26/small-supermarket-wales-owned-surrey-casino-property

Enterprise Zone “gazelle” companies (some in Devon) have unintended consequences

“Britain’s fastest-growing businesses could be contributing to job losses, according to research that claims the government’s policy of backing entrepreneurial companies “may be fundamentally at odds” with tackling regional inequalities.

A study of the performance of more than six million companies over a period of 17 years found that high-growth businesses had a “spillover” effect that could damage local employers.

Fast-growing companies, sometimes dubbed “gazelles”, have been identified in recent years as a way of boosting job creation and improving the nation’s productivity. Despite accounting for less than 5 per cent of businesses, these companies create about half of all new jobs and typically show higher levels of productivity.

However, the study, conducted by the Enterprise Research Centre, found that companies with the fastest employment growth — 20 per cent growth every 12 months for three consecutive years — tended to grow by “hoovering up” jobs from slower- growing businesses in the same region, in what the researchers called a “crowding-out competition effect”.

A 1 per cent rise in the incidence of high-growth businesses in a region was found to actually slightly cut employment, by 0.35 per cent on average — equivalent to a net loss of about 122,000 jobs UK-wide over the period studied, 1997-2013. The worst affected regions included the Scottish Highlands, Cheshire, the North East, Lincolnshire and Devon. In contrast, many urban areas in the South East and Midlands saw a net jobs gain.

Negative effects were most pronounced in the manufacturing sector and rural parts of the UK, where competition for skilled workers was most intense, the researchers said.

The fastest growing companies often attract the most skilled workers in a region where such staff are scarce, leaving slower-growing rivals struggling to attract employees and having to pay more to keep existing team members. As a result they hire fewer people and could be forced into job cuts.

Mike Harding, director of Inspira Digital, said that his ecommerce agency based in Barnstaple, Devon, competes with a London-based agency with a satellite office in north Devon. “If you have someone offering London wages here, that is a black hole that sucks up the local talent,” he said.

The issue can be exacerbated by large companies being offered tax breaks to open an office in Devon in the name of local development, Mr Harding said.

Professor Jun Du of Aston University, one of the authors of the research, said that “while encouraging clusters of fast-growth firms can bring productivity benefits to whole supply chains, some regions and industries with acute skills shortages could see unintended consequences”.

Source: The Times (pay wall)

Flybe biggest shareholder threatens legal challenge to Virgin/Stobart takeover

Owl says: East Devon really does seem to be a very complicated place to do business!

“Flybe’s biggest shareholder has launched a stunning attack on its directors, accusing them of breaching their duties to investors and threatening a legal challenge to the cut-price takeover of one of Britain’s best-known airlines.

Sky News has learnt that Hosking Partners, a prominent London-based asset manager which holds a stake of close to 19% in Flybe, has instructed lawyers to explore its options in relation to the company’s proposed sale to a consortium‎ led by Virgin Atlantic Airways.

These options could include attempting to obtain an injunction prohibiting the deal from being completed, Hosking Partners is understood to have warned Flybe’s bosses this week.

The initial 1p-a-share deal, announced eight days ago, came at a huge discount to the airline’s prevailing share price and underscored its industry’s profound financial challenges.

In a letter to the directors of Flybe, details of which have been relayed to Sky News, Hosking Partners is understood to have expressed concern that they had allowed a false market in the company’s shares to develop by failing to update the City on its financial position in a timely fashion.

‎The fund manager, a long-standing shareholder in Flybe, is understood to have copied its ‎letter to City watchdogs including the Takeover Panel, which polices mergers and ‎acquisitions activity, and the Financial Conduct Authority.

Hosking Partners is said to have raised doubts as to whether the £2.2m offer reflected the intrinsic value of Flybe, and alleged that the handling of its proposed sale had blocked a rival offer from emerging at a higher price.

Flybe’s fate took a further twist this week when it said that its sale to Connect Airways – a consortium comprising Virgin Atlantic, Stobart Group and Cyrus Capital Partners,‎ an investment fund with links to the other two parties – would be restructured.

‎Instead of simply comprising a conventional offer for the shares, Flybe’s trading assets would be sold next month to Connect Airways for £2.8m, leaving the holding company as‎ a shell for which ‎the consortium would continue to pay a nominal sum.

Flybe said this change had been necessitated by its urgent need for liquidity – a claim challenged by Hosking Partners because of the company’s cash balance and ability to raise funds from the sale of assets such as its take-off and landing slots at London Gatwick Airport.

In a statement to the market on Tuesday, Flybe said it had had no alternative but to agree to the revisions because unspecified conditions attached to a bridging loan had not been met.

Hosking and other shareholders are said to be furious about the restructuring of the takeover because Flybe’s recent switch from a premium to a standard listing on the London market meant investor approval was now only required for the holding company bid, not the sale of the airline’s assets.

The fund manager is understood to have told Flybe directors that other parties remained interested in acquiring the airline but would now be unable to make an offer.

At the 1p-a-share offer price, Hosking Partners’ stake is worth roughly £400,000.

If it escalates, the row could pose significant reputational risks to the board of Flybe, which is chaired by Simon Laffin, a City grandee who has served as a director of companies including Mitchells & Butlers, Northern Rock and Safeway.

Investors’ anger has been exacerbated by the fact that early last year, Stobart made a takeover approach to Flybe understood to have been valued at roughly 40p-a-share.

This was rejected by Flybe’s board.

In a further development, Sky News revealed last week that Stobart’s estranged former chief executive, Andrew Tinkler, had himself swooped to snap up a stake of more than 10%‎ in Flybe.

Until as recently as this month, it appeared that Virgin Atlantic and Stobart were ‎likely to table competing offers for the regional airline, before it emerged that they had teamed up as part of the same consortium.

Hosking is understood to have raised concerns in its letter about the process through which they were permitted to form an alliance, although one source close to Flybe said that it had not breached any undertakings by doing so.

The investor is also said to have highlighted the rise in Stobart Group’s share price following confirmation of the 1p-a-share bid as evidence of “value transfer” from Flybe to one of its acquirers, according to a City source.

Under their plans, Stobart Air will be folded‎ into Connect, with all of Flybe’s services re-branded under the Virgin Atlantic name.

The chief executive and chief financial officer of Flybe will transfer to the bidding consortium, according to documents published by the company.

Hosking Partners’ letter is said to enquire about any incentive payments due to either of the duo as a result of the consortium’s takeover.

In a statement, a Flybe spokesman said: “The board of Flybe was faced with a very tough decision based on Flybe’s current difficult liquidity position and the expectation that this pressure will continue.

“Obtaining the revised facility, as announced on 15 January, from the consortium provides the security that the business needs to continue to trade, which preserves the interests of its stakeholders, customers, employees, partners and pension members.

“Flybe will be responding directly to letters received from shareholders.”

Flybe launched a formal sale process last autumn, blaming a toxic cocktail of currency volatility, rising fuel costs and Brexit-related uncertainty.

Although it is small in financial terms, it remains one of the UK’s best-known airline brands, carrying thousands of passengers between largely second-tier British airports as well as European destinations.

A source close to the company pointed out that it had warned in the results accompanying the launch of its sale process that if its credit card partners “were to choose to seek significantly higher cash collateral and the group cannot access sufficient additional liquidity, this would give rise to a material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group’s ability to continue as a going concern”.

The Takeover Panel declined to comment, although a source close to it said it was confident its supervision of the bid had been handled in accordance with its policy of acting in investors’ interests.

For Virgin Atlantic, still part-owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, control of Flybe’s regional network will provide a valuable feed into its long-haul flights to international destinations.

Its return to the domestic UK aviation market will come four years after it announced the closure of Little Red, its previous attempt to make money from a notoriously difficult sector.

Rising oil prices and the weakening of sterling have put airlines under intense pressure, with a deepening industry price war accentuating the financial squeeze.

A Hosking Partners spokesman declined to comment on the contents of its letter, but said this weekend that investors were “entitled to transparency over precisely what has gone on to drastically reduce Flybe’s value”.

“The auction undertaken under the formal sale process has clearly not yielded a favourable outcome for all stakeholders, and it seems that the outcome has locked out any other bidder who may be able to provide a better solution for all of Flybe’s stakeholder‎s.”

https://news.sky.com/story/top-flybe-shareholder-threatens-legal-challenge-over-2m-bid-11611470

Branson for Flybe?

“Virgin Atlantic Airways is in talks to acquire regional airline Flybe Group Plc (FLYB.L), Sky News reported on Thursday, a week after Flybe said it was in talks to sell itself.

A tie-up with Flybe would provide opportunities to feed passenger traffic into Virgin Atlantic’s long-haul network and access valuable take-off and landing slots at London Heathrow Airport, Sky News reported, citing unnamed sources.

Virgin Atlantic’s main business is UK-to-U.S. flights. The company is owned by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and U.S. airline Delta Air Lines.

The report did not mention any financial details. Flybe has a market capitalization of about 21 million pounds, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.

Flybe and Virgin Atlantic declined to comment.

Flybe issued a profit warning in October citing weakening demand, higher fuel costs and a weaker British pound.

Sky News had previously reported that Stobart Group Ltd (STOB.L) was likely to be one of the potential suitors for Flybe.”

https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-flybe-group-m-a-virgin-atlantic/virgin-atlantic-in-talks-to-buy-flybe-sky-news-idUKKCN1NR27Y

“Flybe calls in crisis experts as insolvency fears mount”

“Flybe has called in accountants from KPMG as the low-cost airline attempts to save itself from collapse.

Britain’s biggest regional airline sounded the alarm yesterday by putting itself up for sale. The announcement came as half-year profits plunged and the company’s auditor, PwC, warned of “significant doubt” over its future.

KPMG has been appointed to provide Flybe with advice on its cash flow. City sources said the Monarch Airlines administrator is the frontrunner to take on a potential insolvency. …”

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2018/11/14/flybe-puts-sale-profits-plunge/

Flybe puts itself up for sale

The airline employs around 1,000 people at Exeter airport and the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point relies heavily on the company’s HQ being in East Devon.

Here is the latest report of Exeter airport’s consultative committee in September 2018 was notable for unusually having no Flybe representative attending:

https://www.exeter-airport.co.uk/content/uploads/1808_Consultative.pdf

“One of Exeter’s most important employers, Flybe, has put itself up for sale – partly because it’s been hit hard by Brexit-related uncertainty and currency fluctuations.

The move was announced to the stock market this morning.

Flybe, which employs around a thousand staff at its Devon HQ, was linked with Stobart earlier this year but no deal resulted.

The airline’s share price and profitability have struggled for years.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-england-devon-46102129