Cllr Kim Caddy is the Cabinet Member for Business, Employment and Skills on Wandsworth Council.
Wandsworth is a fantastic place to live – and the statistics bear me out. Our unemployment rate is one of the lowest in London, our average wages are high, crime rates are the lowest for any inner London Borough, we score highly in surveys on social mobility, we have a high number of outstanding schools and most tellingly, people want to live and work here.
And yet. This analysis doesn’t scratch the surface of the complex and difficult lives lived by some people in our communities. In my councillor surgeries and when I visit charities, schools or foodbanks, I hear cases that make you grind your teeth with frustration at the difficulties people face trying to get on and do the right thing. As Conservatives we tend not to talk about these cases as much as our socialist friends, but we should. Because the Conservative politicians I know spend their time trying to improve things for these people, whether it’s through casework or through policies that will help people out of poverty, a housing crisis, unemployment, health problems or one of the myriad of other challenges people face. The truth is that there are people struggling here just as they do elsewhere, and what is important is what we are doing about it.
I want zero unemployment in Wandsworth. I want every one of our residents to have the skills and training to get a job so they can earn a good living and support their families. In my work as a local politician, I have seen the transformative benefits good quality employment bring. For me, no other intervention is more successful long term in improving confidence, ambition, and crucially, financial security. Recent research also supports what has always been obvious, that regular, good quality, well-paid work also has health benefits.
So how do we achieve those aims of quality employment for all? How do we make sure that everyone has the opportunity to access the skills and training to forge a career?
One of our guiding principles is to make all of our provision employer led. This principle applies not just to our own in-house employment brokerage, Work Match, but also to our skills and training strategy. We need to listen to and work with the key employers in and around the Borough to make sure we have a ready-to-go pipeline of candidates to fill the jobs that will be created over not just the next two or five years, but over the next 10 or 15. In a borough like this, where we have multiple major developments such as Nine Elms or the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth Town and major infrastructure projects like the Thames Tideway Tunnel and the Northern Line Extension, we have an incredible opportunity to give our residents the skills they need to take advantage of the jobs becoming available. We also need to make sure we are engaging with residents who are finding it the hardest to get the opportunities, which is why we embed our Work Match staff in the estates undergoing regeneration.
The second key principle is the need to work proactively with our further education colleges, schools and neighbouring boroughs, to make sure our goals are aligned and we are working together to deliver the right training and skills. A great recent example is our work with South Thames College to provide bespoke training courses designed to meet specific employer needs in the Borough, where course graduates can often walk straight into a job. We are also using European Social Funding to provide tailored, employer led, careers advice in our schools. We know that catering, food and hospitality is a key industry for us, and an area where employers have historically found it more difficult to recruit locally. We are working now with our schoolchildren to inspire the chefs and hoteliers of the future.
Finally, Wandsworth also needs to be the Borough of choice for businesses looking to move or start-up. We need to lead the way in driving our area to be as business friendly as possible, not just for the big businesses that have chosen Wandsworth as their home, like Apple or Penguin Random House, but also for the small and medium sized enterprises which are the lifeblood of our communities. These businesses don’t just provide local jobs but also make for vibrant, diverse high streets and business zones.
We have a good track record, recognised by the Federation of Small Businesses as London’s most small business friendly borough last year. Our award winning business support programme, includes “Enterprise Week” which offers a range of free advice, seminars, networking events and guest speakers. This has recently been extended into “Schools Enterprise Week” where we offer inspiration to a new generation of Wandsworth entrepreneurs. We have embraced Business Improvement Districts, with successful ballots already in Putney and Wandsworth Town bringing in increased business leadership and funding to support these areas.
We must also be smart about how we leverage the benefits of the businesses that are setting up here – the positive effects of themed areas or zones on innovation and business growth are well known. That’s why we have decided to commit to funding a study to help the borough attract digital and new technology companies to take advantage of Apple UK’s headquarters moving here, and why we will enhance the investment in our town centres to ensure they remain attractive and competitive.
I believe we need to relentlessly drive support for businesses across all areas of the Council. Our Infrastructure plans must support our local economy and our desire to attract businesses – the Northern Line Extension has been instrumental in enabling the area’s development and the changes to the Wandsworth gyratory system will support the transformation of another Town Centre. In the strategic planning field we have led the way in the use of Article 4 directions to protect our Public Houses and other key business or shopping zones from being developed for residential purposes.
We are making huge progress with our “Aspirations Agenda”, making sure opportunity is available to all, and no-one is left behind. Let’s make those statistics on wealth and social mobility ring true for everyone who lives here, and embrace and encourage our thriving business community.