Kingfisher's results are looking sunnier

But they need to tackle their weakness: DIY.

Kingfisher has revealed that total sales across its UK & Ireland fascias – B&Q and Screwfix – increased +3.6 per cent during the 10 weeks to 13 July 2013, with LFLs growing +2.5 per cent.

This update is certainly a sunnier one for Kingfisher. One of the hottest UK summers for many years has brought with it a surge of spending on gardening and outdoor products.  This more positive update comes off the back of a torrid Q1, where notably miserable conditions across the retailer’s key European locations negatively impacted growth during the traditionally critical Easter period. Moreover, while weakness in its core DIY categories continues to represent a cloud on the horizon, Kingfisher is being proactive in its response.

In the UK, this period saw B&Q benefit strongly from the more positive weather, with higher demand for gardening products and outdoor furniture. For example, B&Q saw sales of wooden outdoor furniture grow 56 per cent, while natural stone tiles were 6 per cent ahead. A more austere British consumer is increasingly looking to make the most of their gardens, with BBQs and dinner parties being viewed as attractive alternatives to going out to bars and restaurants. Indeed, while the performance of outdoor categories will inevitably continue to be heavily shaped by seasonal fluctuations, the more frugal post-recessionary consumer mindset means that these categories will present significant opportunities.

Kingfisher is being proactive in its response to weakness across its core DIY categories, which continue to struggle amid weakness in the housing market and generally low consumer interest. To this end, B&Q is gaining market share off the back of investment in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services. Moreover, a recent deal with Morrisons to share space in Meir Park, Staffordshire, reflects an understanding of the long term necessity to reduce space in response to structural changes and overcapacity in the UK DIY category. Elsewhere, Kingfisher’s UK trade fascia, Screwfix has achieved a strong Q2 performance, boosted by new outlets and competitive pricing. 

Kingfisher faces a number of challenges to overcome in the medium-long term. Most notably, until the housing market improves significantly, consumer interest in DIY will remain weak.  Linked to this, while the ultimate potential of the Coalition’s Help To Buy scheme remains uncertain, the early signs have been promising. Indeed, we do believe the DIY market will eventually reach a stable and settled level towards the back end of next year. In relation to Kingfisher itself, we retain our view that while it is a victim of circumstance the company is both well run and proactive. Investments in stores, a focus on value and the continued development of ranges and services put it in a strong position to grab share and take advantage of the upturn, when eventually materialises.

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Air pollution: 5 steps to vanquishing an invisible killer

A new report looks at the economics of air pollution. 

110, 150, 520... These chilling statistics are the number of deaths attributable to particulate air pollution for the cities of Southampton, Nottingham and Birmingham in 2010 respectively. Or how about 40,000 - that is the total number of UK deaths per year that are attributable the combined effects of particulate matter (PM2.5) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx).

This situation sucks, to say the very least. But while there are no dramatic images to stir up action, these deaths are preventable and we know their cause. Road traffic is the worst culprit. Traffic is responsible for 80 per cent of NOx on high pollution roads, with diesel engines contributing the bulk of the problem.

Now a new report by ResPublica has compiled a list of ways that city councils around the UK can help. The report argues that: “The onus is on cities to create plans that can meet the health and economic challenge within a short time-frame, and identify what they need from national government to do so.”

This is a diplomatic way of saying that current government action on the subject does not go far enough – and that cities must help prod them into gear. That includes poking holes in the government’s proposed plans for new “Clean Air Zones”.

Here are just five of the ways the report suggests letting the light in and the pollution out:

1. Clean up the draft Clean Air Zones framework

Last October, the government set out its draft plans for new Clean Air Zones in the UK’s five most polluted cities, Birmingham, Derby, Leeds, Nottingham and Southampton (excluding London - where other plans are afoot). These zones will charge “polluting” vehicles to enter and can be implemented with varying levels of intensity, with three options that include cars and one that does not.

But the report argues that there is still too much potential for polluters to play dirty with the rules. Car-charging zones must be mandatory for all cities that breach the current EU standards, the report argues (not just the suggested five). Otherwise national operators who own fleets of vehicles could simply relocate outdated buses or taxis to places where they don’t have to pay.  

Different vehicles should fall under the same rules, the report added. Otherwise, taking your car rather than the bus could suddenly seem like the cost-saving option.

2. Vouchers to vouch-safe the project’s success

The government is exploring a scrappage scheme for diesel cars, to help get the worst and oldest polluting vehicles off the road. But as the report points out, blanket scrappage could simply put a whole load of new fossil-fuel cars on the road.

Instead, ResPublica suggests using the revenue from the Clean Air Zone charges, plus hiked vehicle registration fees, to create “Pollution Reduction Vouchers”.

Low-income households with older cars, that would be liable to charging, could then use the vouchers to help secure alternative transport, buy a new and compliant car, or retrofit their existing vehicle with new technology.

3. Extend Vehicle Excise Duty

Vehicle Excise Duty is currently only tiered by how much CO2 pollution a car creates for the first year. After that it becomes a flat rate for all cars under £40,000. The report suggests changing this so that the most polluting vehicles for CO2, NOx and PM2.5 continue to pay higher rates throughout their life span.

For ClientEarth CEO James Thornton, changes to vehicle excise duty are key to moving people onto cleaner modes of transport: “We need a network of clean air zones to keep the most polluting diesel vehicles from the most polluted parts of our towns and cities and incentives such as a targeted scrappage scheme and changes to vehicle excise duty to move people onto cleaner modes of transport.”

4. Repurposed car parks

You would think city bosses would want less cars in the centre of town. But while less cars is good news for oxygen-breathers, it is bad news for city budgets reliant on parking charges. But using car parks to tap into new revenue from property development and joint ventures could help cities reverse this thinking.

5. Prioritise public awareness

Charge zones can be understandably unpopular. In 2008, a referendum in Manchester defeated the idea of congestion charging. So a big effort is needed to raise public awareness of the health crisis our roads have caused. Metro mayors should outline pollution plans in their manifestos, the report suggests. And cities can take advantage of their existing assets. For example in London there are plans to use electronics in the Underground to update travellers on the air pollution levels.

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Change is already in the air. Southampton has used money from the Local Sustainable Travel Fund to run a successful messaging campaign. And in 2011 Nottingham City Council became the first city to implement a Workplace Parking levy – a scheme which has raised £35.3m to help extend its tram system, upgrade the station and purchase electric buses.

But many more “air necessities” are needed before we can forget about pollution’s worry and its strife.  

 

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.