The Garrett Business Park Business Improvement District (BID) vote was counted yesterday.  One of the powers a BID has is to charge an extra levy on business rates to be invested within the district.

The proposal came about after a lot of hard work from the business association and Angela Graham, one of the local councillors.  Having visited the business park I could see why they wanted the BID to help them invest in the crumbling roads they had to use, so wasn’t surprised when the vote was successful.

However, I was astounded by the margin of victory for the ‘yes’ vote – a 68% turnout with a 90% yes vote.  These are businesses, facing recession, voting for more taxation!

But, of course, what they have actually voted for is the right – for the first time – to see their business rates benefiting them.  Up until now they’ve been paying into the national pot which is unfairly distributed to Labour’s friends in the north.

It’s a fairly common complaint I hear from businesses that business rates keep going up – and I have to explain that although the government makes Wandsworth collect them we don’t get to set them.  It’s a ridiculous situation that really needs to be changed.  Here in Wandsworth we give residents low council tax and excellent services, we should be allowed to offer the same to businesses.

Last night saw Wandsworth’s last full council meeting of the year.  My main part was speaking in a debate on the results of the business survey carried out earlier this year.

It showed that business confidence was declining (even though it was carried out before the news started to turn really bleak) but Wandsworth was generally feeling more confident than businesses elsewhere in London and the country.  There was also good news that the council’s business support services are generally highly regarded.

What astounded me, however, is that the Labour Party really do seem to have fallen for the spin that Gordon Brown is some sort of world leader stirring everyone through a financial crisis.  They applaud his VAT cut, but fail to notice that shops are having to have 10%, 20% and even 50% sales just to get them through Christmas!

On a day he said he’d saved the world (and while we all make slips of the tongue, they often reveal what we are really thinking) we also had the German finance minister calling Brown’s plans, “crass” and saying they would take a generation to pay off.  It seems Brown is a world leader with no followers.

In the midst of this it’s down to Wandsworth to try and make things as good as we can for businesses in the borough, while no-one should be under any illusion times will be easy for business, hopefully we will be able to avoid the worst of it.

Tonight saw the launch of Wandsworth Town Centre Partnership’s Vision and Agenda for the next three years.

Wandworth Town Centre Vision and AgendaThe document sets out the Town Centre’s vision and aspirations to build on the huge improvements Wandsworth has seen over the past ten years.  And Wandsworth has changed enormously even in that short time, thanks in no small part to the leadership the Town Centre Partnership and council have given to the area.

It’s hard to be optimistic in the current climate (and many at the launch admitted the past few months had seen a huge decline in business) but this shows that we are constantly looking at how to minimise the effects of recession and are well-placed when the country comes out the other side.

The new Waitrose store on St John's Road

The new Waitrose store on St John's Road

It was a good day for Clapham Junction with the opening of the new Waitrose store on St John’s Road.  It seemed to be doing a roaring trade from the outset, but most importantly it was a vote of confidence in Battersea and Wandsworth at a time when other high street names are closing.

It is very hard to be positive when the economic outlook is looking bleak, to say the least, but Waitrose will provide some stability (they replaced a Woolworth’s store) and will provide around 130 local jobs.  It would be irresponsible to suggest that Wandsworth won’t be hit by the recession – but there is some evidence, like Waitrose’s confidence, that the borough is well-placed to avoid the worst effects.

Deputy Mayor Peter Dawson switches on Northcote Road's Christmas lights
Deputy Mayor Peter Dawson switches on Northcote Road's Christmas lights

On a brighter note Northcote Road celebrated Christmas with the turning on of their Christmas lights tonight with a healthy crowd braving slightly damp weather to join the Deputy Mayor in the switch-on.  The whole of Northcote Road joined in with a late night shopping event with many stores offering one day sales.  If you went along I hope you managed to snap up a few bargains!

The Asda store on Lavender Hill re-opened today as ‘Asda Clapham Junction Battersea’ in response to the SW11tch campaign to make sure the area is properly named.

Celebrating the 'opening' of Asda Battersea
Celebrating the 'opening' of Asda Battersea

Asda was one of the biggest offenders (Wal-Mart is the world’s largest company).  So it’s a real coup for the campaigners to get them to recognise where they live.

A common question is ‘why is it important’?  I think there are two answers.

First, you need to know where you are!  When Waitrose announced they had bought some Woolworth’s stores and would be opening new shops there was a real buzz on a Clapham web-forum.  Until, that is, they realised that Waitrose had made a mistake, and were moving to Battersea, not Clapham High Street.

But the second issue is branding.  Wal-mart do not allow each Asda store to create their own brand, perhaps focusing on different products, or creating their own logo.  It is important to have a distinctive brand that people recognise and can trust, especially when times are hard.  And it’s no less important for Battersea to have it’s own brand, so people know where and what it is – a high quality, diverse and distinctive destination.

A late cancellation and the fact that all other celebrities are in an Australian jungle led to me officially turning on the Clapham Junction lights tonight – despite being on a list that exists well beyond any alphabet known to man.

Clapham Junction were the first town centre to officially turn on their Christmas lights (although Tooting have had their Diwali lights for nearly a month) and this marks an important season in the retail calendar, especially as the news on the economy gets bleaker by the day.

Also officially opened today was the Lavender Hill skating rink with a demonstration from the Streatham Redskins ice hockey team.  Although organised by the Lavender Hill Traders Association (through the commitment and support of Anthony Laban and Clapham Junction Asda) the rink is at the Albert Bridge car park in Battersea Park.  The rink is already proving popular, particularly with local schools and with all proceeds supporting the Devas Club, a local youth club, it’s well worth a visit.  Tickets can be bought from or 0870 0666 844