I went along to a new nursery/office space in Wandsworth this morning (not on any official capacity, but because we’re thinking of using it). The company, Third Door, operate a flexible nursery with attached office space so people who work from home but don’t want to put their child in a regular nursery spot have somewhere they can go for a couple of hours.

A few months ago it would have been a godsend for me, while I was having to wedge huge amounts of work (lots of it on the phone) in between demands to hear about Igglepiggle getting lost and then finding his way back again.

But this isn’t just an infomercial; Third Door brought home to me one of the things I really like about Wandsworth. And that’s the businesses. Some of them are incredibly innovative, like Third Door, but all of them contribute to the success of the local economy and borough as a whole.

I am between portfolios on the council at the moment (legally all executive positions ceased with the new council last Monday and can’t be recreated until the annual council meeting next week) but was incredibly lucky to hold the portfolio I did for the past four years. Much of my blogging has, I think, concentrated on the community safety and crime element, but that is not a reflection of the importance of the council’s economic development role.

There is a strong small business aspect to Wandsworth. Small businesses make up over 9 in 10 of the businesses in Wandsworth and there are an estimated 25,000 self-employed people in the borough. It has, perhaps, been a failing of mine not to spend more time on business related issues in the blog. But while you are out and about, or even surfing the net, keep an eye open for the huge numbers of small businesses, often based above retail parades or operating from a house down your road, that are creating wealth and jobs in the local economy.

And if you are one of those businesses, I hope you are getting the support, help and advice you need from the council’s economic development office. If not, let me know.

In the nearly three years I’ve been responsible for the council’s economic development function business rates have been one of the most consistently raised concerns.  Business rates are set centrally by the government, but they make the council collect the money on their behalf.  If anything this makes businesses even more aware that they don’t benefit from being based in an efficient borough like Wandsworth: residents get a low council tax and excellent services, businesses pay central government taxes and do not benefit from many council services.

This year was promising to be particularly bad, because it marked the end of transitional relief.  Commercial properties were revalued in 2005 with some local businesses seeing their rateable value double.  Transitional relief was introduced for four years to soften the impact.  However, this meant rises were limited in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but any remaining transition would be in one fell swoop in 2009.

Amazingly, the government didn’t see this coming!  In Wandsworth businesses faced their rates doubling, trebling and even quadrupling overnight.  And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, in a recession small businesses – who often operate on small margins at the best of times – were facing disaster.

The council had been calling on the government to extend transitional relief, and the government has belatedly listened.  Sort of.

Businesses will now be allowed to defer the some or all of the increase and pay it over the following two years (2010-11 and 2011-12).  Of course, it might well be this is just deferring the problem if the recession is still creating a difficult trading environment, but we have to take what we can get.  Given that this problem has been four years in the making we should be pleased the government has been able to cobble something together at the last minute (although still not in time for the start of the financial year, businesses will have to pay a few months at the increased rates) we should be grateful.

Wandsworth has also been promoting small business rate relief.  So far nearly 2,000 companies have benefited by over £1,000,000 in relief.  If you think you might be eligible you can find out more on the council’s website.