The council are running two more ‘recession workshops’ for local businesses.

The first is tonight (Wednesday 29 April) for businesses based in Wandsworth, Earlsfield and Southfields.  It is being held at Blend, 111-113 Wandsworth High Street at 7pm.  Attendees will be lucky enough to hear me speak on the council’s reponse.

The second is tomorrow (Thursday 30 April) for Clapham Junction businesses.  Held at Battersea Arts Centre on Lavender Hill it starts at 5.45pm.

GLE oneLondon will be at both events to provide advice and are offering ongoing mentoring to businesses.  Both will also provide networking opportunities for attendees.

With the Chancellor about to start his budget speech unemployment continues to climb.  Nationally 2.1 million people are claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) with nearly 6,000 of those in Wandsworth.

JSA claimants Mar 08 - Mar 09In total 5,889 people are claiming JSA, 2.9% of the Wandsworth population.  We continue to be in a better position than the national and London averages, which are at 4%.

The figure for March is an increase of 408 (7.4%) from February and 2,144 (57.2%) from the same time last year.

This does not reveal the full extent of unemployment, just those who have chosen to apply for JSA and are found to be eligible.  Figures for actual unemployment are produced much later, the most recent figures show that in August last year 20,700 people of working age were on benefits.  Even less recent were the figures for last June which showed 9,000 people were unemployed (the JSA claim at the same time was just 3,741).

Unemployment claims nationally have hit 2,000,000 and if you follow this blog you’ll know I regularly report the JobSeeker’s Allowance JSA claims for Wandsworth.  The figures for February were released yesterday and showed a 13.6% jump from January.

JSA claimants Feb 08 - Feb 09

The increase means I’ve had to change the scale on the graph I was using (which only went to 5,000).  I’ve added 1,000 to the scale, but suspect it won’t last long.

In total 5,481 people were claiming JSA in Wandsworth in February.  This is an increase of 658 (13.6%) since January this year and an increase of 1,697 (44.8%) since February last year.  This figure contributes to a total 20,700 (10%) people who are claiming working age benefits in Wandsworth.

Gordon Brown still hasn’t said sorry.

It’s worth pointing out that unemployment and JSA claims are not the same thing.  You can be unemployed but, for whatever reason, not claim JSA.  The most recent total unemployment figures for Wandsworth are for June 2008 when 9,000 people were listed as unemployed but only 3,741 people were claiming JSA.

I’ve written several times about Balham on this blog, largely the negative news surrounding the closures of Woolworths and Marks and Spencers. This time I get to be a little more positive and flag up the council’s ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ seminar taking place tomorrow (Wednesday 18th March).

The seminar is one in a series of events the council is hosting to help businesses cope in the recession.  The session is led by BIG, a business development company and will run from 12 noon for an hour at the Balham Bowls Club in Ramsden Road.  The event will cover topics like driving sales, forming strategic partnerships and networking.

The council is doing all it can to help small businesses through difficult times, for example by encouraging claims small business rate relief nearly 2,000 business in the area have benefited by over £1,100,000.  You can find out more on the council’s business support webpage and find out more about what the council is doing generally on the fighting the recession webpage.

Unfortunately I cannot make the Balham event as I have a prior engagement (which will almost definitely feature on the blog) but if you want to attend then get in touch with the Balham Town Centre Manager, Kim Bellringer, on 020 8767 4082 or email

Please RSVP to Kim Bellringer, Balham Town Centre Manager: 020 8767 4082 or

There is a bit of a fashion for things like and (although the latter apparently only includes Labour Party ‘help’) and I wonder whether I should offer

While the council hasn’t developed a nifty front-end it has put together a substantial package of help and assistance for the borough’s residents and businesses that will be considered at next weeks Corporate Resources OSC and at next month’s full council meeting (when we will hopefully be approving the 0% increase in council tax).

The report is being submitted under the Leader’s name, as it is the result of co-ordination of every council department to deliver real assistance at a time when it matters.  But as this is my blog I’m going to boast about the work that, at least in part, falls into my council remit:

  1. A review of enforcement to ensure it’s carried out in a business friendly way
  2. Spreading business rate payments over 12, rather than 10, months
  3. Promoting small business rate relief (in 2008/09 nearly 2,000 businesses benefited by over £1,100,000)
  4. Organising ‘Beat the Credit Crunch’ seminars for businesses
  5. Helping small retailers by letting them take payments on behalf of the council
  6. Making it easier for small businesses to bid for work from the council
  7. Providing grants and interest free loans for businesses to improve their premises
  8. Looking at ways to reduce the impact of vacant properties on their town centres
  9. Launching Tooting Together to improve the environment in Tooting town centre
  10. Working with businesses who want to establish Business Improvement Districts
  11. Launching the ‘Go Green’ project to help businesses make more efficient use of energy and resources
  12. Investing £170,000 in the Northcote Road action plan
  13. Holding Inward Investment events around the borough to promote job-creating investment across the borough
  14. Participation in the Employment and Skills Partnership to fight the effects of the recession and help the long-term unemployed into work
  15. Programmes specifically targeted at getting  young black men and those with disabilities into work
  16. Increasing the availability of apprenticeships
  17. Launch the Personal Best project, which will help over 200 people into work by improving their skills through volunteering
  18. Working with Job Centre Plus to deliver the Job Shop next to the Power Station, which has helped over 2,000 people into work since 2005
  19. Spending nearly £2,000,000 to deliver Adult and Community Learning to support over 10,000 adults to provide more skills and job-readiness courses
  20. Keeping the country’s lowest council tax, keeping more money in people’s pockets and in the local economy.

Of course, this doesn’t include the excellent work the council does on a daily basis providing top quality services for businesses, especially through initiatives like our Town Centre Managers.

I will not deny that I have tended towards pessimism on the economic situation – but it has always been tinged with an optimism that Wandsworth is well placed, and while it won’t totally avoid the ravages of recession it will hopefully avoid the worst.

You can read the Leader’s full report on the council’s website.

The January figures of Jobseekers Allowance claims have continued to rise.  January’s figures show an increase of 168 for the month, 1,082 for the year.

JSA claimants Jan 08 - Jan 09

It’s a fairly significant increase, although less than the previous month.

It’s worth bearing in mind that this is a total of Jobseekers Allowance claimants, those people who have registered as unemployment and been given Jobseekers Allowance.  The actual unemployment total is significantly higher.  Unemployment figures for boroughs are produced over six months after the period in question.  However, nationally the unemployment figure is 6.3%, whereas the national JSA claimant rate is just 3.4%.

marks-and-spencer-logoMarks and Spencer have confirmed their decision to close their Balham Simply Food store.

The store, which has been open for nearly six years, will close on 19 March.  I know this is going to be a big disappointment to many Balham residents.  And is a big disappointment to me, Balham is a Town Centre on the up and leaving it seems an odd step.

Unfortunately, the council’s arguments did not persuade M&S who will now be talking with their 25 employees about their options.

The council and Town Centre Partnership will continue to promote Balham as a destination for retailers, but unfortunately we have little control over who moves into the vacant unit.

brown-i-didnt-see-crisis-comingWe’re officially in recession, with a second quarter of ‘negative growth’, although we’ve gone three quarters without any growth.  Unemployment is rising, so is crime, and house values are falling almost as quickly as high street names.  So why is it, as a Conservative, I sorry for Gordon Brown?

It is an odd feeling.  But I’ve had it for a long time.  I think it’s because he’s actually not very good at his job, I’m sure he’s well-meaning and has the best intentions, but sadly he’s just not up to delivering on them.

I was first aware of it shortly after he became Prime Minister.  He’d desperately wanted the job for so long, and when he finally got it, it turns out he’s not very good at it.  It’s like being a child at Christmas, desperately wanting some toy, then, finally getting it and discovering that it isn’t actually anything like you imagined it.

What has really compounded my pity is the discovery that he wasn’t any good at his last job either.  He’s basically spent the past 12 years turning up for work and hoping no-one spots that he’s bluffing, promising “an end to boom and bust” and sustained growth.  Of course, now he blames the international banking system, as if it’s something new rather than something he failed to regulate or monitor properly.  Or maybe he managed 10 years as Chancellor ignorant of the fact there was a banking system.

And bizarrely, all of us have known for a long time it was coming.  I remember having conversations in pubs at least 3 or 4 years ago, speculating on whether it was worth selling the house and banking the equity for when the crash came, and most people I know can recall similar thoughts or conversations from before the recession.

The benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing, but when the man in the pub can feel it coming, it really speaks to the incompetence of a man not spotting it despite having an entire Treasury of civil servants and economists.

But although I feel sorry for the guy, I feel sorrier for the ordinary people who are losing their jobs and homes on his watch and it’s time for me to move past my sentimentality.  We all love the plucky amateur who refuses to recognise his lack of talent – shows like The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent trade on it – but when he’s managed to rise so far above his level of competence that he’s running the country, and running it into the ground, he doesn’t deserve pity – he deserves the boot.

marks-and-spencer-logoThe closure of Balham’s Marks and Spencer has left a lot of local residents puzzled about why M&S have decided to axe what is seemingly a busy and successful store.

And I’m puzzled too.  

We all know that the country is effectively in recession.  We know that businesses will be feeling the pinch.  But, as a whole, Balham has shown itself to be very resilient.

For a start, it’s a great location.  There are around 21,000 residents within half a mile of the town centre and it has great transport links, with an underground station and an overground station scheduled for improvements.

It’s also benefited from significant investment.  The council’s Town Centre Improvement Scheme has leveraged nearly £600,000 of private sector investment in the Town Centre and in the past 4 years 60 businesses have upgraded their premises or moved into or within the town centre.  

What’s more Balham has been bucking the trend:  footfall counters show an increase of 6% between December 2007 and December 2008, at a time that a national fall of 8% is being reported!  And there is significant anecdotal evidence that food sales for consumption at home are increasing as people eat out less as a result of recession.  If your main business if food sales, Balham would seem the place to be.

It is bizarre that M&S are leaving an area that a retailer, and a food retailer to boot, would surely be desperate to be in.  The council will be putting all these points to M&S to try and dissuade them from following through on their closure.

Last Wednesday’s Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee was the first in the ‘new’ format in which the focus moves from each meeting to a different part of the portfolio. This time it was the turn of regeneration and, not surprisingly, the recession took up a large part of the meeting.

It is difficult to get the tone right when talking about the recession. While I don’t want to make the mistake same mistake as Gordon Brown of pretending that Britain would never have bad times I also don’t want to make the situation in Wandsworth seem worse than it is.

The simple fact is that Wandsworth is not immune and will be hurt by the recession, and while there’s good reason to believe we won’t be as hard-hit as other other areas, we need to take what measures we can to help residents and businesses.

At the meeting some specific measures were approved by the committee.

Employment Support for Young Black Men
Unemployment amongst you black men is disproportionately high, and we have appointed Talent to work with clients to overcome the most common difficulties they face in getting jobs. You can read more in the council’s press release or the report considered by the committee.

‘Best Buy’ Wandsworth
The council constantly promotes Wandsworth to businesses and potential investors – as a borough and a specific areas. I have great pride in seeing the sterling work undertaken by the Town Centre managers of Balham, Clapham Junction, Putney, Tooting and Wandsworth in developing and promoting their areas. The programme of promotion will continue to highlight the town centres as part of the ‘Best Buy’ but will also start promoting other areas in Wandsworth.

Nine Elms
The Nine Elms area represents the largest potential development area in inner London and it got a real boost with the announcement that the American Embassy will be moving there. The council will continue to promote the area to create more jobs and homes.

Roehampton suffers the borough’s highest rate of unemployment and is currently the focus of a major regeneration scheme. This is reliant on attracting a private sector partner, which will be hard in the current climate.

The Wandle Valley
The Wandle Valley covers several boroughs, and there is a scheme to create a Wandle Valley Regional Park and this will provide an opportunity to promote the business and investment opportunities along the river.

The scheme will have several elements (you can read more in the report) but the main purpose will be to sell Wandsworth as a destination for business and leisure. However hard the recession is, and however long it lasts, when people start thinking about investment again, we want Wandsworth to be top of their list.