Some suggest the process could be done quickly if there is a clear favourite, while others fear a long drawn-out and bitter leadership contest lasting for most of the summer. The most likely date of the result for the election of the new Tory Party leader and PM is September 5, after Conservative Party members have made their choice. The first round of voting is due to begin today to whittle down the candidates to just two.
With Johnson already insisting that he won’t announce any new policies until the new leader succeeds him, there are also fears of a lame duck government that stagnates and doesn’t get anything done. The UK could be in a state of paralysis and incoherence in a way that echoes the period before the 2019 election when Brexit deadlock was all-consuming.
That is, of course, not the look that UK plc wants to portray to the world, particularly post-Brexit when it’s trying to find a new, clear identity for itself.
However, one area in which Britain very much still leads the world – along with financial services, culture, major sporting events, science and engineering – is tech. Whether it’s hubs in London, Oxford, Cambridge and Reading, or the increasing number of startups in newly emerging tech hotspots like Hull, Stoke and Middlesbrough, the UK has come to be seen as a world leader in tech – following on from the legacy of the father of computer science, Alan Turing, the code-breakers at Bletchley Park (the majority of which were women) and Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web.
And the same goes for tech sub-sectors such as FinTech and, with particular relevance to this column, PropTech.
The UK has without doubt been a global leader in this fast-growing marketplace. According to Unissu, there are currently 771 PropTech companies in the UK, ranging from major, established property portals like Rightmove and Zoopla to youthful startups.
London is one of the world’s main PropTech’s hubs, and heavily dominates the UK scene. Unissu says 518 PropTech companies operate in the capital, miles ahead of Manchester (25), Birmingham (16), Cambridge (16) and Bristol (14).
The firm says residential PropTech is comfortably the largest sector (58%), followed by commercial (38%) and retail (4%).
We see regularly in this very column and on the very pages of this site the growing number of PropTech startups offering all kind of solutions to agents, landlords, tenants and others involved in the property sector.
The government, too, has heavily invested in the sector through various government-backed incubators.
While arguments will rage about how useful some products are, and whether there are too many products offering the same things, innovation in the property market is needed to help drive things forward in an increasingly digital world – and there are so many good PropTech firms out there.
It will play an important part in the transformation of the home buying and selling process and rental reform, as and when they happen. It has already helped to transform Right to Rent – to make the system more streamlined and more efficient – and helped to automate previously manual, labour-intensive processes.
There is still more to do, in terms of improving and expanding e-conveyancing, digital mortgages and cloud-based solutions, but I don’t prescribe to this idea that PropTech in the UK has reached a natural ceiling. Its growth, which continues upwards year-on-year, is a sign of its ongoing evolution. And there are always new obstacles and challenges in the property sector that require tech solutions.
As ever, these aren’t there to replace humans or face-to-face interaction, but to improve the overall process.
If the government is serious about being a truly global Britain, we need to focus on success stories like UK PropTech to show how the country can still lead the way when investment, innovation, talent and opportunities are brought together in the right way.
Startups need support to get off the ground – too many still fail – which is where government has a role to play with support and grants.
UK PropTech, like any industry, isn’t perfect – and has its critics and detractors. There is a valid argument that it’s too London-centric and needs to embrace the government’s mantra of levelling up by looking outside of the capital for new growth areas. After all, the property market exists in the whole of the UK, not just London.
The argument that some PropTechs attempt to answer problems that agents don’t really have also holds some weight. But, overall, it’s a sector that is going in the right direction and has grown fairly organically to become what it is today.
Whoever takes over as the new PM may want to look at UK PropTech as a case study for how Britain can rediscover its place and influence in the world.
*Nat Daniels is CEO of Angels Media, publishers of Estate Agent Today and Letting Agent Today. Follow him on Twitter @NatDaniels.