The news today was of a fall in unemployment. Paradoxically, underlying this is an increase in JSA claimants. I’ve often said that JSA claims and unemployment are not the same thing, since many choose not to claim Jobseekers Allowance for a variety of reasons; they might be able to live off their own means or just be too proud. And some have that choice made for them because they are not eligible.

In Wandsworth 6,789 people (a claim rate of 3.3%) were claiming JSA in January, this is 195 (3% higher) than the previous month and 1,966 (40.8% higher) than the same time last year. This wipes out all the falls since October and is only 25 off being the highest figure since the recession began.

One unfortunate outcome of the recession is the rise in longer term unemployment. This is a lagging indicator, since, obviously, you can’t immediately be long term unemployed, but you can start to see the curves moving upwards in the 6 month and 12 month plus lines.

Depressingly those six and twelve month lines are likely to continue moving upwards and even now they make up just over half of all the claims (3,460 over six month compared to 3,329 under six months).

The UK has finally left recession. As Gordon Brown repeatedly told us, we were one of the best placed economies to weather the storm – although quite how that tallies with being the last major economy to see growth and having the longest recession since current records began escapes me.

What is interesting to me, is how Jobseekers Allowance claims in Wandsworth appear (and I stress appear) to have followed economic growth. Previously there has been a lag, with unemployment increasing after the recession has ended. JSA is only a proxy for unemployment (many people who are unemployed choose not to claim, or are ineligible) but its recent plateau seems to mirror the plateau in the economy. Whether this is coincidence, or a sign that the nature of recessions has changed, remains to be seen.

It’s not a dynamic end to the recession – only 0.1% growth in the provisional estimate – but a positive sign.

I seem to have stopped taking photos this year – so the cup of tea is getting a few outings – not that photos of meetings or a fairly damp and dreary London are any more exciting.

Councillor Awards
I started the week off acting as a judge for the Local Government Information Unit’s first national councillor awards. While I’ve judged a few things in Wandsworth (most recenty the SNT award) this is the first time I’ve been part of a national award’s judging panel.

It was certainly a fascinating, and humbling, experience – and a real privilege to be asked. Seeing what councillors and local government around the country are achieving was an inspiration.

While the winners aren’t announced for a few weeks (they all find out at a conference at the Emirates next month) I can, of course, start acting on that inspiration.

Wandsworth LSP
The Local Strategic Partnership is one of those bodies that exist in every local authority that no-one actually knows about.

The name gives away what it is (or should be) it’s a high level partnership of everyone involved in the local area – the council is an obvious member, but they are joined by the police, local health service, local businesses and charities to help set the overall direction of the area. The partnership in Wandsworth works remarkably well, and has certainly improved enormously since I first joined (that is a function of a change in the partners around the table, rather than my joining).

One interesting point that came up (I think from one of the health service representatives) was the amount of work we can create for local businesses when tendering contracts.

Until fairly recently it would have been illegal to consider bids on anything but price and quality, though this has relaxed recently, but is an issue that I’ve been looking at over the years. One thing I wouldn’t want to do is start putting a price on location. Is being Wandsworth based worth a £1,000 or £10,000? And what happens if a company moved mid-contract?

The key problem, though, is that Wandsworth is predominantly a small business economy and the public sector is forced to be quite restrictive. For example, we require significant financial guarantees and will look through a company’s accounts to ensure the public money we are spending is at as little risk as possible. These have certainly deterred businesses in the past and often a small company just won’t have been in existence long enough to meet these requirements.

But we can improve access for local businesses by advertising the opportunities and providing advice on how to bid and this is something we are starting to improve. We have long been accessible to local businesses (through things like the Wandsworth Business Forum, the next one being on Monday) and are always willing to advise and help a business compete for our contracts.

Nine Elms Opportunity Board
My last meeting of the week was the Nine Elms Opportunity Board. Now that the area is finally starting to develop this is becoming an exciting meeting again (for years its meetings seemed to be just to discuss what wasn’t happening).

The body was initially formed to try and maximise the benefits to local residents of the development of the Power Station site and the report from Job Centre Plus was interesting. Yesterday I highlighted the small drop in Wandsworth’s JSA claims, but apparently the movement in the market is considerably higher than this time last year. So while there were only a few job vacancies being reported at the beginning to 2009 there are plenty being reported and filled this year. Perhaps we can start being a little more confident about the end of the recession.

There was an ever so slight fall in the number of Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims in Wandsworth last month with 47 fewer (a drop of 0.7% against last month) people signing on than in November.

A total 6,594 people were claiming JSA, a rate of 3.2%. This is an increase of 1,939 (41.7%) on the same time last year, although it’s worth noting that the recession was in full swing by then.

Wandsworth continues to perform well against London and the country as a whole.

Nationally the claim rate remains the same at 4.1%, but London wide the rate has dropped from 4.4% to 4.3%. The small fall in Wandsworth was not big enough to change the rate which remains at 3.2%.

What is interesting is how the rates seem to have plateaued for a few months now. In previous recessions unemployment (and therefore out-of-work benefit claims) has continued to rise for some time after the recession has ended as employers deal with the effects. Indeed, it may well continue to rise this time with people returning to benefit after season work has ended. Or it might just be that this recession is different. Only time will tell.

Earlier this week I did a little analysis on the number of Jobseekers Allowance claims in Wandsworth and pointed out that while claims seemed to have plateaued nationally the trend was still upwards in Wandsworth. This week saw a drop of 172 claims (or 2.5%) in Wandsworth that perhaps gives some hope we aren’t going to continue the rise.

Wandsworth JSA claims, Nov 08 - Nov 09

Claims are still up by 2,345 (or 54.6%) on this time last year. But the trend seems to be slowing (and maybe even reducing) and is holding up well against the London- and nation-wide rates.

JSA claim rates, Nov 08 - Nov 09

With the year drawing to a close, and hopefully the UK’s longest and deepest recession with it, I’ve spent a little time looking at how Wandsworth has coped.

I’ve repeatedly said that while Wandsworth isn’t immune to the effects of recession it is better placed than most to weather it.

The graphs below are various comparisons of Jobseekers Allowance claims. This isn’t a measure of unemployment (those figures aren’t produced for some months) since people can be unemployed without claiming JSA. And it isn’t the complete story; it ignores the take-up of other benefits and things like business failures or high street vacancies (Wandsworth has actually seen little change in these rates during the recession).

However, JSA can be a good indicator. So…

These graphs consider the period from January 2008 until October 2009, the represent (where appropriate) the highest rate in red, the lowest rate in green and Wandsworth in blue.

First up is a straight comparison between Wandsworth and the national rate of claims.

Wandsworth and national rate of JSA claims Jan 08 - Oct 09

A good story for Wandsworth. Overall the gap between the lines has increased. In January Wandsworth’s rate was 0.4% below the national rate, it’s now 0.8% – overall JSA claims have risen less here than nationally, there would be about 800 more people signing on if we’d followed the national trend.

However, the past few months seems to show the national figure on a plateau, while Wandsworth has still increased a little. This may be because people who have lost their jobs in Wandsworth (which has a high proportion of people working in the financial sector) have been living off their own means before signing on, but that is just conjecture, the figures will need watching for a few months to see if the trend continues.

Next is a comparison between Wandsworth and the highest and lowest inner London borough rates.

Wandsworth and the highest and lowest inner London borough JSA claim rates - Jan 08 - Oct 09

Again, I think a good story. Wandsworth (the blue line) has the second lowest rate (Kensington and Chelsea, the green line). While our performance against them has deteroriated, we’ve seen the gap between us and the worst affected borough open from a 3% to a 3.5% difference so, proportionately, we’ve not been hit as hard as other inner London areas. And having the second lowest rate after Kensington and Chelsea is no cause for shame.

Finally, a comparison within the borough. This needs a slight caveat; the rates are calculated against smaller populations (the difference between thousands in a ward compared to 100,000 to 200,000 in most boroughs) so the rates can fluctuate more. However, over the period it shows a fairly clear pattern.

Wandsworth lowest and highest ward JSA rates Jan 08 - Oct 09

The story here is not so good. While we haven’t been as badly affected as some parts of the country those differences are reflected within Wandsworth. Ideally the rate of change would be the same, indicating a borough that is relatively cohesive. However, the gap between highest rate (Latchmere, in Battersea) and bottom (Thamesfield, in Putney) has widened from 3.5% to 4.4%. This is not an ideal situation and suggests some parts of the borough, because of poor transport links, access to employment opportunities or education and training are suffering more than than other parts. Exactly why things like the Employment and Skills Partnership are needed to target public resources to address those imbalances.

Overall, I think my repeated comment that Wandsworth has not been hit as hard as elsewhere has been true. And even Wandsworth’s worse wards haven’t been affected as badly as, say, Tower Hamlets or Hackney. But it does bring home that just performing better than elsewhere is rarely a cause for complacency.

We are now in the longest recession this country has suffered.

No political points. The recession continues, unemployment goes up.

Last month we saw a small drop in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims, this month’s increase more than wipes out the drop.
Wandsworth JSA claims, Oct 08 to Oct 09
Overall there was an increase of 140 JSA claims this month, a 2.1% rise. There are now 6,813 people signing on, an increase of 2,768 (or 68.4%) over the year.

And that’s just in a year. We haven’t seen any growth in the economy since 2007. The increase in JSA claims since then is 82.1%. It’s hard to see the benefits of our economy being ‘well-placed’ for this recession.

The growth in unemployment slowed nationally, but in Wandsworth it fell slightly in September. Not much, just 43, but that’s still a fall!

Overall there were 6,673 people claiming Jobseekers Allowance in Wandsworth in September. A fall of 43 (0.6%) on the previous month. Of course that is dwarfed by the steady increase in previous months. The total is still some 2,711 (68.4%) higher than this time in 2008.
Wandsworth JSA claims, Sep 08 - Aug 09
Of course, small fluctuations are not much to get excited about, but so far they have tended to be favourable to Wandsworth. I’ll repeat my mantra: Wandsworth isn’t immune to recession, but is doing a lot better than many places during it.

As unemployment nationally rises to 2.47 million people the effects of the small dip in Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) claims in Wandsworth has been more than lost with subsequent rises.

In August there were 6,716 people claiming JSA in Wandsworth, an increase of 219 (or 3.4%) on the previous month and up 2,754 (or 69.5%) on August 2008. The graph shows a fairly consistent rise over the past year.

Wandsworth JSA claims, Aug 08 - Aug 09

I often point out that JSA and unemployment are not interchangeable. While everyone claiming JSA will be unemployed, it does not follow that everyone who is unemployed will claim JSA. To highlight the point nationally unemployment is 2.47 million, but JSA claims only 1.61 million – effectively there are 860,000 people choosing – for whatever reason – not to sign on.

It is difficult to make a similar comparison for Wandsworth, since the figures are not collected in the same way, instead unemployment for the whole year is calculated. However, to give an indication, unemployment for January to December 2008 (the most recent available) in Wandsworth is calculated at 9,600. The average of all the JSA claims for those 12 months was 3,939 – implying a significant proportion of Wandsworth residents were choosing not to register at their local job centre.

After last month’s small drop in Jobseekers Allowance claims the number rose again in July. However, the rise was small, and I will – again – say there is a lot to be positive about in Wandsworth. However, we cannot buck the trend entirely, so it was hoping a bit too much that we’d see another fall when the national backdrop is of continued rises.

The chart shows the climb, but apparent slowing, of JSA claims in Wandsworth between July 2008 and July 2009.
Wandsworth JSA claims, Jul 08 - Jul 09

The The Wandsworth total of JSA claimaints (people actively signing on as unemployed) was 6,497 (a rate of 3.1%). This is an increase of 149 people, or 2.3%, on the month. And an increase of 2,637, or 68.3%, on the year.