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 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 🙂

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

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!

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.