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Annual Lunch for London Chambers of Commerce hosted by the Bank of England 2015

Posted October 11, 2015
The London Chambers (mostly Outer Boroughs) reported that membership is picking up after a flat period over the last couple of years.  Many of the main Issues identified by the other Chambers will be familiar to members of Kensington and Chelsea Chamber and are follows:
Construction and property development
There is huge investment in property development:
·         Commercial: Southwark reported that there has been an ambitious programme to build new hotels which are not yet attracting sufficient guests. Kingston also reported a growth in new hotels and restaurants.  Greenwich and Lewisham have a big hotel building programme linked to the new International port for cruise liners that is under construction.  East London including Docklands also reported a large amount of new hotels being constructed.
 ·         A number of Chambers from all areas of London were again concerned at the proportion of commercial space that has moved to residential usage including student accommodation in Kingston.  Merton questioned the quality of strategic planning: where would all these people moving into new homes work?  RBKC has special dispensation to resist the demand for this.
 ·         Residential: a large number of extensive and ambitious housing projects are taking place in many boroughs including: Kingston, Southwark, Barking & Dagenham and Newham (royal Docks and former Olympic site).
 Commercial Rents
·         Commercial property rents are cited as exorbitant and have increased as the conversion of commercial properties into residential has caused a shortage across London (Kingston and East London Chambers)
 Business Start-up and Development
Business creation was reported to be strong in a number of boroughs including: Newham, Barking & Dagenham.  In Kingston this is linked with the University and the Chamber has launched a ‘young entrepreneur club.  Merton was awarded ‘Best Borough for Business’ based on the large number of new start-ups.  Greenwich, Lewisham, Bromley and Bexley are offering graduates from local universities free Chamber membership for one year to support employment and entrepreneurship.
Banks are not the preferred source of funding for new businesses that tend to get support from Government or ‘Dragons’ Den’ / ‘Angel Investors’ type schemes.  The expansion and responsiveness of Metro Bank was noted by many Chambers although they were not thought to be any stronger than other banks in agreeing business loans.
It continues to be difficult for new businesses to move from being successful as home based to the next level which requires commercial property, employees etc.  One response to this is that number of Councils are supporting ‘Incubator Units’ and ‘Enterprise Hubs’ but there was no evaluation of the effectiveness of these initiatives.
 Local procurement opportunities
There is continuing frustration in many London businesses that Councils and other organisations are not transparent about their procurement procedures and there is a feeling that they are often not buying goods and services from locally which obviously has a negative impact on businesses and increases the carbon footprint.  This is despite schemes to attract bids from businesses such as ‘meet the buyer’ event organised by Kingston and a similar event in Kensington and Chelsea last year.
 Employment issues
·         As last year, businesses complain that many applicants for jobs have salary expectations above the level of their skills and experience and that there are skills shortages in the domestic workforce in a number of sectors, especially digital and communications.
 ·         A number Chambers reported that local employers feel that they are being pushed to take an increasing number of people with poor health and criminal records and that Government schemes are not delivering people who have the right attitude to work.
 ·         There has been an increase in home-working (Kingston)
 ·         The National Apprenticeship Scheme was generally thought to be working well and delivering new skilled people into the workforce.
 ·         Concern was expressed about implementing the London Living Wage especially in the Care Industries.
 ·         There were mixed feelings about the costs associated with Pension Auto Enrolment with some Chambers saying that their members are anxious and others that it was not an issue.  This may depend on the size and nature of the business.
Many Chambers including Kingston, Merton and the South East London Chambers believe that the transport infrastructure is ‘challenging’ with few improvements since last year. 
·         Merton promoted the view that Crossrail should be seen as short term ‘grief’ for long term gain.  Greenwich and Hillingdon Chambers were equally positive about the benefits that it will bring to local businesses.  There was however comment that Crossrail will take people away from, as well as bring them into Chamber areas.
 ·         The lack of bridges across the Thames in key geographical areas remains an issue for a number of South London Chambers.
 ·         Hillingdon and Hounslow Chambers again emphasised the necessity to expand Heathrow in order to support local businesses but recognise that this is not supported by local residents, M.Ps and some potential candidates for London Mayor.
High Streets
The impact that different ways of purchasing is having on retailers in High Streets was not raised as a key concern this year which may reflect the interests of the people reporting rather than suggest that footfall and turnover is increasing.
Amanda Hayes