The fourth Small Business Friendly Borough Awards, supported by London Councils and the Federation of Small Businesses were held on 30 March 2017. The awards highlight the work of boroughs to support small and micro businesses, and provide an opportunity to learn from good practice. This briefing gives an overview of the winners and of successful small business initiatives being implemented in London.
Small firms play a critical role in London’s economy, accounting for 99 per cent of the capital’s businesses and nearly 50 per cent of employment. They are not only key wealth generators but are also an important part of their local communities. This is recognised by London boroughs and reflected in the strong packages of support for SMEs (Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) that inlcudes:
- offering business support and advice services
- improving access to public sector and other contracts
- providing access to affordable workspace
- improving digital infrastructure
- providing access to finance
- improving skills
- including small businesses in the policy-making process.
To celebrate the boroughs’ work and the positive impact this has on small business, London Councils partnered with the London Region of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) on the fourth Small Business Friendly Borough Awards for London.
This year’s was the biggest to date, with 38 nominations received from 23 boroughs. The nominations were considered in four categories:
- Best All-Round Small Business Friendly Borough - This award commends councils for successfully implementing wide-ranging policies to support and develop the local micro and small business community.
- Best Small Business Friendly Procurement to Support Local Trade - This award celebrates council procurement activities that have enabled local micro and small businesses to gain access to public sector and other local contracts.
- Best Programme of Support for Small Businesses - This award recognises programmes of support around a particular theme, which have encouraged and supported the borough’s micro and small business community.
- Best Small Business Champion - These awards recognise individuals who have led work to support and promote small businesses in their borough.
Details of the winning projects are outlined below:
Best All Round Small Business Friendly Borough
Winner – London Borough of Wandsworth
By providing a comprehensive package of business support, Wandsworth is helping local businesses grow and flourish. Their activities include launching Wandsworth Foodies’ in autumn 2016, providing one-to-one and group support tailored to the food industry; one-to- one and workshop support to help businesses build capacity and skills to win contracts in the Nine Elms Regeneration area; Wandsworth Enterprise Week; the Wandsworth Digi-tech booster programme to support the sector’s growth; Wandsworth Business Loan Fund lending over £300,000 to businesses struggling to access finance; launching two new BIDs to support town centres; supporting over 100 children to be tech enterprises of the future through Coding Clubs programme and analysing future affordable workspace needs.
Highly Commended – London Borough of Havering
Havering’s package of support includes offering SMEs the opportunity to influence local policy and meet the Leader at the quarterly Havering Business Network; quarterly meetings of the Women in Business Network; Small Business seminars; the annual Havering Business Awards; supporting start-ups through creating three new workspaces and bespoke targeted services; investing in infrastructure in seven town centres; developing the Build Havering programme to provide intensive support for Construction SMEs; and hosting the Centre of Engineering & Manufacturing Excellence.
Best Programme of Support for Small Businesses
Joint Winner – London Borough of Lambeth: Lambeth Works
Lambeth Works is designed to provide at least 140,000 sq. ft. of new affordable workspace over the next five years. The programme involves the use of council assets, over £2 million funding from the council and GLA, and use of S106 agreements and Article 4 directions to secure affordable workspace in new developments and protect existing space. Three new workspaces have been launched, existing workspace safeguarded, and businesses benefitting from the scheme required to volunteer in the local area through “community giveback clauses”.
Joint Winner – London Borough of Sutton: Pop-Up Sutton: The Entrepreneurs Market
This is a new and innovative project to stimulate business start-ups that enables entrepreneurs to get a foot on the business ladder. Once a month, start-ups get access to a ready-made audience at a popular market on the high street to test their business ideas. A specialist and bespoke business support package is also in place and a robust communications strategy to publicise and grow the market. Eighty eight local entrepreneurs have been supported since the scheme launched in February 2016.
Best Small Business Friendly Procurement to Support Local Trade
Winner – London Borough of Merton: Private Taxi Service for Children with Special Education Needs (SEN) and vulnerable adults
Merton found their existing service was suffering from a lack of qualified and available taxi- operators and increased costs. Following an initial pilot, a Dynamic Purchasing System was developed and launched in December 2016. Traditional barriers to the contract experienced by the local market have been reduced and more local suppliers have access. Training and support has been provided to suppliers at no cost, new entrants are winning business and both the providers and the council are benefitting from the on-line weekly self-billing system, which is reducing costs and ensuring prompt payment.
Best Small Business Champion
Winner (Member) – Cllr Ben Coleman, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham
Cllr Coleman has led a wide range of initiatives, including a taskforce to develop an economic and social value policy for council procurement and new rules to require prompt payment by main contractors to sub-contractors. He has backed the council’s construction supply chain programme, providing 150 businesses with 12 hours of free support, leading to new sales of over £1 million. He led an action group to revive North End Road in Fulham and has ensured genuine business involvement in council policy making, with 50-100 attendees at economic regeneration meetings helping to develop new policies.
Winner (Officer) – Jenni Asiama, London Borough of Wandsworth
Jenni developed and delivered the first Wandsworth Enterprise Week in 2014 helping build their flagship programme from 12 events attended by 300 people into 25 events attended by over 1,600 people by 2016. In 2015 she created a programme of ‘taster’ business basics workshops, which were facilitated by support organisations such as NatWest Business and the Institute of Charted Accountants in England and Wales. She highlights new businesses that have recently opened in the EDO’s monthly newsletter and arranged for Wandsworth to be a stop for the 2015 National Small Business Saturday bus, offering a platform for local SMEs to showcase their services.
Small businesses face many challenges to their survival and growth including difficulty accessing good quality business support and advice, affordable workspace, business finance, and public sector procurement contracts. Councils across London are working to help small businesses to overcome these challenges, creating a positive environment for them to do business locally, as well as providing more direct support.
The availability of affordable, flexible and appropriate workspace is critical to small business development and has become increasingly challenging for many SMEs, due to rising land values, pressure from new developments and changes to permitted development rights. 50 per cent of the 5,000m² of SME workspace secured by Camden through S106 Agreements is affordable. Barking and Dagenham has established Barking Town Centre as an Artist Enterprise Zone with a collection of projects delivering affordable artist workspace.
SMEs have also benefitted from support in other areas of infrastructure, such as digital. Greenwich’s £750,000 e-business programme, designed to improve local SMEs engagement in digital commerce, has engaged over 600 businesses in digital training, increasing their turnover by £8.6m. Brent Council has developed a digitally integrated and connected high streets programme for Wembley High Road providing SMEs with a series of workshops and one-to-one support, plus a micro-site for each SME. Barnet secured £20 million from Virgin Media to deliver high speed broadband to 40,000 homes and businesses, while Camden has launched 112 free public Wi-Fi hotspots and Westminster has lobbied providers to lay new fibre-optic super-fast broadband cables in their borough, with the agreement recognised as national best practice.
Improving access to public sector contracts has been a top priority for many boroughs. Croydon’s Value Croydon project works with SMEs to identify and remove unintended barriers to procurement, investing in a dedicated team to support the development of commissioning capability across the sector. Bexley has published a business and investment guide also used by the council procurement team to find local suppliers as part of “Think Local First”. At least ten boroughs also pledge to pay local SMEs within ten days, rather than the recommended 30.
An increasing number of London boroughs include SMEs in their policy making process. In Havering, SMEs have the opportunity to influence local policy and meet the council leader at the quarterly Havering Business Network. Croydon’s Small Business Commission aims to ensure that the SMEs have their voices heard in policy discussions and embed SME-friendly policies into Council best practice. Hammersmith and Fulham’s engagement with SMEs has directly led to changes in policy on betting shops, empty shops and a new arts strategy.
The majority of London boroughs have strong programmes of business advice and support in place. Ealing has used New Homes Bonus funding to provide public realm improvements, hold two business expos, and a monthly food market. Harrow helps SMEs market their offers direct to 90,000 residents through the Council’s free Harrow Deals initiative and has delivered a programme of events including one on cyber security. Hounslow uses New Homes Bonus money to support SMEs through a Festival of Business, procurement workshops and training and mentoring programmes. Hackney has been promoting and developing opportunities for its SMEs abroad through their Oslo Meets Hackney business friendship agreement, while much like Wandsworth, Westminster has developed their Enterprise Week into a flagship programme.
Access to finance remains a problem for many SMEs and start-ups, and is another area where boroughs are taking positive action. In Haringey, the council’s Opportunity Investment Fund makes £3.7 million available to support rapid business growth in Tottenham. Croydon’s Enterprise Loan Fund has supported 250 businesses that were unable to access conventional sources of finance. Camden has developed the Camden Business Charter with local SMEs and invested in 58 loans to local businesses, yielding a further £3.7 million in private investment.
High streets and town centres are the beating heart of London’s business community and many boroughs have targeted plans to support them. Richmond has provided support to 13 of its main town centres, including an annual £100,000 grant fund to stimulate and support town centre trading associations, redevelopment of local shop fronts and created two new BIDs. Merton has used NHB funding to redevelop Morden Town Centre, providing businesses with refurbished shopfronts, grant funding for energy efficiency improvements and a new pop-up space for community groups. Islington’s business support programme for Finsbury Park Town Centre, also includes shopfront improvements, plus marketing and communications support. In Kingston, a free 30 minute parking scheme has been introduced across the borough to make it easier for customers and delivery drivers to park up for short visits.
Ensuring that Londoners have the right skills to match the needs of business is another key area where councils have taken action. Southwark has developed an Apprenticeship Service, providing free bespoke support to every business in the borough. A directory lists providers checked against the Southwark Apprenticeship Standard and a free recruitment service is also provided. Bexley has launched a skills charter, designed with small businesses to help SMEs grow, showcase their investment in staff development, and raise their profiles as employers.
The Small Business Friendly Borough awards have once again highlighted the valuable work that councils do to support local SMEs and boost their local economies, as well as providing an opportunity to learn from best practice across the city. This work will become increasingly important with the prospect of 100 per cent Business Rates Retention to fund local government from 2020 onwards.