Marks and Spencer have announced that their Balham Simply Food store will be among those to close.  This is obviously not good news, either for Balham Town Centre or the employees who will be losing their jobs.

But it’s also a reminder that recession is not just about businesses going into administration and names disappearing totally, but employers cutting costs and jobs being lost.

Marks and Spencer will remain, for the time being, elsewhere in the Borough, but in Balham there is going to be a big hole in the high street.  I just hope at tonight’s Regeneration and Community Safety OSC meeting Labour don’t have the temerity to try blame the state of the pavements rather than their government’s economic failure.

Wedgewood's anti-slavery logoAs Wedgewood becomes another victim of the recession we should remember that this company has a substantial history. Coffee House, the Spectator’s blog, points out Wedgwood’s contribution to the anti-slavery movement.

It’s very easy to think that corporate social responsibility is a new thing, and that historically profit was the key motive. But over 200 years ago Josiah Wedgwood had his craftsman design a medallion for the abolitionist movement which helped bring the anti-slavery message into people’s day-to-day lives. He manufactured and distributed these at his own cost and they found themselves on hat-pins, broaches and could be inset onto other items.

By wearing or displaying it you showed your solidarity with the abolitionist cause in exactly the same way as wearing a poppy, ribbon or wrist-band now and the medallion helped increase public awareness of, and opposition to, slavery.

It is sad that Wedgwood has become another victim of the recession, and sadder still that we might lose one of the names that has played such a big role in the nation’s history.

With the Christmas hangovers barely worn off today sees the start of Woolworths closure programme.  Wandsworth’s stores all close in the New Year, and will leave a big hole in the town centres they are leaving, and a bigger hole in the lives of the employees who are losing their jobs.

Shortly before Christmas Edward Lister, the council leader, announced the council’s programme to help the borough’s businesses and residents through the recession.  A lot of these schemes are within my portfolio, and quite a few see their first airing at the Regeneration and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee early in the new year so I’ll highlight them here in the coming days.  However, it’s worth just flagging up one of the leader’s comments:

Wandsworth ‘s council tax is the lowest in the country. We are committed to keeping our bills affordable for local people. When household budgets are stretched, a low tax can make a real difference.

And this is key.  In Wandsworth the average band D council tax is £681 per year.  Nationally the average is £1,370 – this means you are nearly £700 a year better off just for living in Wandsworth.  When times are hard, that makes a lot of difference.

I made one last trip into Clapham Junction town centre today and was amazed at how busy it was.  Asda was heaving, there was a steady flow of bag-laden shoppers coming from St John’s and Northcote Roads and there was the traditional queue of people outside Doves.  Perhaps the economy isn’t all that bad.

But then I remembered a conversation I had earlier today.  It was started with the news that Whittard were on the verge of administration.  And then progressed to who was next.

The scary thing, looking back, was the sense of grim resignation.  The unspoken assumption was that there would be a next.  And there would be more to follow.

Given that our economy is so reliant on consumer confidence it is scary that there seems to be a widespread assumption that the new year is going to be bleak – because it can easily be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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.

Last night I attended the celebration of volunteering the council held to say thank-you to the many people in the borough who give their time to help others.  It was an inspirational event not least because it powerfully illustrated that there is still a strong sense of community and selflessness in the borough.

volunteerawardsth There were 140 nominations for awards, which barely scrapes the surface of the amount of volunteering that takes place – apparently the volunteering ‘economy’ is worth over £20 million a year in Wandsworth, and that’s assuming a minimum wage payment to the volunteers we know about.

I found myself as a standing for the second time in a week, presenting the award of volunteer of the year to Kitty Gilbert.  I lost count of the number of places she volunteers, giving her time to help with reading.  It was a real delight to see her enthusiasm and joy at winning.

Congratulations must go to the council’s economic development office and Wandsworth Voluntary Sector Development Agency, (who can provide information on volunteering opportunities in the borough) for organising such a great night.  But the biggest congratulations and thanks have to be to all the people volunteering throughout Wandsworth.