Not the most exciting image from last week's Wandsworth Business Forum.

There are over 12,000 businesses in Wandsworth, employing (if my sums are right) over 70,000 people, but for some reason business lacks a voice in Wandsworth.

That’s not to say business is ignored; we do plenty to communicate with businesses, each town centre has a council employed Town Centre Manager, working with the local town centre partnership. We have links with the major business and trading associations. We regularly communicate and consult with businesses.

But there hadn’t been a strategic voice for business until recently.

We held the Wandsworth Business Forum last week (another ‘service’ we give businesses, an information and networking event) and formally launched the Wandsworth Business Partnership. Last night the Partnership held its third meeting and elected its first chairman from the private sector (I had acted as chairman while it was established).

Why is it important? Well, the borough’s business has never had a strategic voice with the council.

But arguably business is a key part of what makes the borough great. Most people form an opinion of an area not on the neighbours, or the quality of the housing, but the nearby retail offer. If you have ‘nice’ shops, you think it’s a nice area. If the nearest parade can only offer cut-price drink, gambling and kebabs you might draw a different opinion.

Business brings people and money into the local economy. Without it Wandsworth would be a dormitory, where people slept when they weren’t working elsewhere.

And the irony is that businesses, arguably, are the biggest funders of the council. While localisation of business rates is still a year away, and technically business rates are paid – ultimately – to HM Treasury the fact remains that the amount the Treasury pay to councils (which massively outweighs the money councils raise themselves) comes from somewhere and is remarkably close to the amount businesses pay in rates. Businesses find themselves paying a lot in taxation, but getting little representation.

This article on O2, Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea’s plan to introduce free wifi is mainly focused on residents, but highlights the importance of a strong business voice.

It is exactly the sort of project that could help Wandsworth’s emergent creative sector to thrive by giving it a competitive edge, but hitherto we haven’t had a body that could either call for, or support, strategic projects like that.

It will be fascinating to see how the Wandsworth Business Partnership develops and works. (I sometimes wonder if we are just going through a corporatist cycle of government, and couldn’t help think of the Neddys.) I know it won’t always see eye-to-eye with the council – if only because it has chosen parking policy as one of its initial priorities – but on the other areas, like attracting investment to the borough or the creation of employment space we would hopefully be of one voice and seeing some exciting times together.

(If you are a Wandsworth Business you might be interested in joining the Wandsworth Business Partnership group on LinkedIn.)

I’ve spent a fair chunk of today at an inward investment event for Putney Town Centre. Although Nine Elms and Tooting have been getting a fair degree of attention recently, the council has continued to promote the rest of the borough as a destination to businesses, retailers and investors. Today’s event was aimed at attracting people to invest in Putney, highlighting both the opportunities for retailers and the consequent advantages for those seeking to establish offices in the area.

It is, of course, coming to the time in the cycle when a lot of the borough is talked down for political advantage. I recall Stuart King’s rather negative campaign as Labour leader four years ago that was little more than a litany of complaints and criticisms that – in fact – most people didn’t relate to (and may have contributed to him losing his own seat; if things were so bad, why hadn’t he done anything in his eight years as a councillor).

In fact there’s a lot to be positive about in Wandsworth and Putney. The high street has weathered the recession remarkably well and managed to attract new investment during it. And today, the area was still enough of a draw to attract 70 or 80 people from developers, retailers and businesses who might be the ones investing in SW15 in coming years.

It’s nearly two months since Lord Adonis’ big announcement of a £50 million pot to invest in the country’s ten worst stations – and the naming of Clapham Junction as number two on the list.

I was a little cynical, since I think Clapham Junction needs some significant spend on it, and questioned how the cash would be divided. Especially when other, less needy, stations were getting significantly more anyway.

However, it seems Clapham Junction is one of the winners – getting (subject to negotiation) £10 million, 20% of the total pot. Assuming the higher placed stations, like Liverpool Lime Street which was seen as the country’s worst, get similarly big shares the poor stations at the bottom won’t be doing too well!

But while I’m still not convinced it’s enough – it’s a large sum and, spent well, will make an impact. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of it.

Clapham JunctionI commented on the £50 million investment for 10 stations, including Clapham Junction, at the end of last week.

Since then I’ve been trying to find more details. But I’ve failed. There just don’t seem to be any details out there. The best I’ve managed to find is on Martin Linton’s website is a suggestion that Clapham Junction should get a big share, but without any reference to why he makes that assertion.

That details can’t be found perhaps isn’t that worrying of itself. It was only a week ago that it was announced. However, it’s a bit concerning that it’s so difficult to find any reference to how the decisions will be made. Do the individual stations bid? Are they just allocated the cash? What if the stations, collectively, need more than £50 million?

The money is a response to the Rail Champions report. Reading through Lord Adonis’s blog of his tour of the ten worst stations he seems to suggest the problems at Clapham Junction are things like the lack of escalators and that the platform canopies do not cover the entirety of the platform. He also mentions the need for an entrance at bridge level, which, of course, is already being planned (with some investment from Wandsworth Council).

These are the sorts of things that might be changed relatively cheaply. But they aren’t the fundamental problems that need to be addressed.

To my mind, and I think anyone who uses the station, the real problems are capacity – of the tunnel linking the platforms and of the trains serving the station. While the proposed Brighton Yard entrance will go some way to alleviating the pressure in the tunnel it might only be at the expense of new congestion problems on the footbridge, an antiquated structure that I suspect is well overdue replacement. And there’s a good chance that the problems will get worse once pay-as-you-go becomes valid next year, as a huge group of travellers become eligible to pass through the Clapham Junction gates.

Guido Fawkes blog suggests the investment is linked to politics – 9 of the 10 stations are in Labour held seats, and the tenth only became Conservative in a recent by-election – than it is to any serious desire to improve transport. (A counter argument to that, which has some merit, can be found on Hopi Sen’s blog). However, given that less than a week before Putney Station (not one of the worst ten) was announced as getting in excess of £10 million investment it begs the question of whether the £50 million was more about buying PR than a genuine attempt to help the country’s worst stations.

It might be a start, but it’s significantly less than other – considerably less needy – stations are getting. It’ll be interesting to see the details when, and if, they are published.

Lonely: For the speakers at the Business Forum it was a big lonely stage in front of a big audience.
Lonely: For the speakers it was a big lonely stage in front of a big audience.

A few bits that I’ve not posted about separately during the week.

Clapham Junction
This week saw the (superficially) good news that Clapham Junction is to receive some funding for improvements, combined with the bad news – which we all sort of knew – that it’s the country’s second worst station. I’ve not written anything about this because I have been trying, and failing, to get some more information. It doesn’t seem like there’s much out there, just that the total pot is £50 million. Obviously any improvements to the station are good, but my fear is that the amounts suggested are nowhere near enough to make the difference needed. The major problem is congestion in the tunnel, and there’s no easy solution to that.

Wandsworth Business Forum
Thursday saw one of the regular, council organised, Business Forums. I don’t think there are many equivalents elsewhere in the country, but these serve two purposes. Part is information, they usually have a few interesting speakers and part is networking. Thursday’s event saw over 350 local businesses gather at the Wandsworth Palais for an evening largely focused on culture and the creative sector.

A great night, and I understand it continued long after I left at 9pm – and when people linger it’s usually a good sign.

If you are a business and aren’t already on the guest list and getting regular invites you can get more information from the council’s website.

Battersea Poems
Following on the culture theme; this morning I served as the token Philistine on the judging panel for Battersea Poems. There were some excellent poems submitted and going through and selecting the poems for the anthology was a lengthy process. The winners will be notified in coming days and the book should be published in time for Christmas.