Last night saw the Wandsworth Business Forum at Balham (with huge thanks to The Bedford for hosting us). And I came away feeling very upbeat about Wandsworth, and business in Wandsworth.

The council’s Economic Development Office run the meetings, rotating around locations in the borough at various business friendly times. The basic concept is to have some speakers on business related topics, followed by a networking session.

I was one of the speakers and was live-tweeted by Ian Fenn, something both flattering and scary – because it makes you realise how much of what you do can be public and instantly accessible. I’ve included his Tweets at the end of the post.

My spot was a real gallop through two topics. The first was what Wandsworth is doing to help fight the recession – the easiest thing to do is point you to wandsworth.gov.uk/recessionfighting. The second was to highlight the positive signs that are coming from the recession.

It’s easy to be negative in a recession, and I’m probably as guilty as any for that, but there are some good reasons to be postive in Wandsworth.

We monitor a wide range of indicators, like unemployment and benefit take-up to vacancies on our high streets, to watch how the recession is affecting Wandsworth. I won’t pretend we’ve not been hit, but we seem to be suffering much less than other places. So unemployment remains below the London and national averages and our vacancy rates are still remarkably low.

That’s not to say there aren’t problems around the corner. It might be unemployment is low because people are living off redundancy payments rather than signing-on, but so far we seem to weathering the storm well.

And there’s a lot to be positive about. Wandsworth is incredibly well placed to recover rapidly when the recession ends. We have a real vote of confidence in Nine Elms from the US Embassy. We have a highly skilled and flexble workforce. We have a prime, inner London, location.

But the main reason I came away upbeat was not because of what I know from the statistics, but from talking to businesses afterwards. No-one I spoke to pretended they weren’t having to tighten their belts, but there was a confidence and desire to succeed beyond that. We’ve always prided ourselves on being a business friendly borough – but when you meet the businesses here, it’s hard not to be business friendly.


Ian Fenn’s Tweets are below. The ‘From…’ is a link to the original Tweet on the Twitter website.

From @ifenn
Heading to the Wandsworth Business Forum and my ‘showdown’ with @jamescousins ūüôā

From @ifenn
@jamescousins I don’t think you have too much to worry about. ūüôā

From @ifenn
I now know I am at the Wandsworth Business Forum but for a moment there I thought I was at some bizarre fan club for deep-fried party food.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins is speaking. Started tweeting it but Twitter gave me an error. Grr…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: Wandsworth Council is also trying to speed up it’s processes. They aim to pay suppliers, for example, quicker.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: a variety of business loans are available from the council through central goverment and London mayoral initiatives…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins Wandsworth Council is now more relaxed about allowing businesses to advertise on pavements…

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: we have a good location, the lowest level of inner London crime, and five great town centres.

From @ifenn
.@jamescousins: Being positive, we have evidence Wandsworth is doing well in the face of the recession. We are in a good position.

From @ifenn
Had a short but good chat with @jamescousins then walked home, breaking my Fitbug step target for the day. Phew!

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.

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 kbellringer@wandsworth.gov.uk.

Please RSVP to Kim Bellringer, Balham Town Centre Manager: 020 8767 4082 or kbellringer@wandsworth.gov.uk

I had the privilege of presenting the first six ‘Good Neighbour’ awards at a short breakfast ceremony this morning.
 
The scheme is part of the council’s ‘Tooting Together’ programme of work to improve Tooting Town Centre. Businesses are independently judged not only on meeting their statutory requirements (like safety and cleanliness) but also, and importantly, in their customer service and their understanding of the role they can play in improving their local community.
 
It was great to see a fantastic turnout this morning and give the first winners their certificates. One of the reasons I’m particularly pleased is because it is a recognition that we all have a role to play in improving our neighbourhoods and promoting that sense of community. To my mind, promoting those communities is one of the most important things a council can do.
 
The first six good neighbour businesses are (in no particular order): Aradhana, Sajna Hair and Beauty, Minar Jewellers, Pooja Sweets and Savouries, Russell’s DIY and Spice Village.

Posted via email from jamescousins’s posterous

While it the announcement that the UK is formally in a recession was expected, the size of the fall of GDP took many by surprise.  Three quarters have now passed since the UK economy grew, Q2 2008 saw the economy remain flat, to be followed by 0.6% and 1.5% contractions in Q3 and Q4.

And the effects have been felt in Wandsworth.  Jobseekers Allowance claims rose steeply in December 2008.JSA-claims-dec-2007-dec-2008Over the course of the year, from December 2007 to December 2008, Jobseekers Allowance claims rose by 937 (3,718 to 4,655).  The increase between November and December 2008 was 359 (4,296 Р4655).  However, Wandsworth can still claim some good news as it is still in a better position than London and the rest of the Britain; in Wandsworth 2.3% of residents claim JSA, compared to a rate of 3.2% and 3% for London and Britain respectively.

I wrote the other day (Why are M&S leaving Balham?) about why Balham should be on the up.  In one of those unfortunate ironies at least one business agrees Balham is a place to be.

The lease on the old Woolworths has been bought by a company called 99p Stores Ltd.  who will be opening this Thursday.  While there is part of me that is pleased that that a retailer has the confidence to move in and create jobs, I cannot deny a much bigger part of me would have preferred a more prestigious name.

Unfortunately, it is a side effect of recession that this type of store flourishes as people cut costs. ¬†The company’s website even boasts about it in a job advert, “in the current economic downturn we are enjoying unrivalled growth and success.”

And even more unfortunately, even though the recession will pass (and even someone as bearish as me knows that) these shops will tend to remain. 99p Stores have bought a long lease on the site so they, presumably, are planning on staying put.

The council, particularly through the Economic Development Officer and Town Centre Manager do a lot of work to sell our town centres – not, I hasten to add, to recession stores – and promote investment in them but it is a hard slog and sometimes things aren’t going to develop how we would like.

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.

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.