An image of Putney at night with cars and streetlights shining brightly.

Wandsworth down: borough’s businesses hit slump since 2018

Businesses in Wandsworth have suffered a slump since 2018, according to data released in November.

Obtained from London Datastore, an Office for National Statistics (ONS) report into business demographics showed Wandsworth lost nearly one in ten active businesses between 2018 and 2022.

Wandsworth had nearly 19,510 active businesses in 2018, but only 17,660 four years later.

The 9.5% drop was the second largest in the capital, with only the City of London posting a greater loss of 16.4%.

The largest increase was in Hackney, which saw a 20% increase in the number of active businesses.

There was a general increase north of the Thames, as opposed to a general decrease south of the river.

But Wandsworth does seem to have an issue, with the same dataset showing its enterprise death rate outstripped births by nearly 2%.

Moreover, Wandsworth businesses set-up in 2018 had a four-year survival rate of just 44.2% which is below the London average of 46.8%.

Deepak Kapoor, owner of Glug, a wine shop and bar in Putney, was surprised by the drop, but suggested it could be down to a transient workforce and an ageing population, in addition to the long-term affects of BREXIT.

Kapoor said: “We were really struggling to get staff and we were really struggling with staff retention, because we’ve lost a lot of good European workforce, so that was one really major contention.

“But I can’t think that this is really only specific to Wandsworth.

“That being said, we do have a lot of 25-30 year old professionals and we do notice that they come and go.

“And, by the time they find you, they’re moving on. They don’t spend here.

“But, I also can’t see that being specific to Wandsworth because you’d find that in so many areas.”

Glug in Putney on a Friday night

According to the ONS 2021 census, Wandsworth’s average age of 32 is comfortably below the London average of 35, but the borough does have a large and expensive residential rental market.

Data from the ONS Annual Population Survey shows private rentals made up more than a third of the borough’s households in 2020.

Refencing firm Homelet showed Wandsworth’s average residential rent increased by more than a third between November 2018 and November 2022, rising from £1693 to £2268, in their Rental Index.

This is one of the highest rises in the capital, with Wandsworth’s rent among the most expensive as a result.

This is again, according to their data, comfortably higher than the London average, which was £1981 in November 2022.

One resident, Mike Wade, said the impact on the area’s cost-of-living has something to do with the drop.

Wade said: “People don’t have the money and can’t spend it.”

Another resident, Victoria Jones, a former gallery owner, pointed the finger at lack of government support.

Jones said: “There is no back-up to enhance businesses and keep them going.”

It is difficult to attribute any single factor to the drop in Wandsworth, whilst the likes of Hackney apparently boomed.

Wandsworth is more expensive than most other London boroughs, but, according to the ONS Census 2021, its average age is younger than Hackney’s.

Oktra, a company that designs and fits offices, even suggests the average prime rental values for an office commanded in Battersea and Nine Elms were among the cheapest in the capital, at the end of 2023.

One contributing factor to the drop and comparative fall could be due to the number of self-employed people in the area between 2018 and 2022.

According to their labour market profiles, Wandsworth and Hackney had very different experiences in the period.

Wandsworth’s self-employed population was hit hard early in the pandemic, whilst Hackney’s peaked prior to the second lockdown, before dropping dramatically.

Wandsworth followed the wider UK trend, according to an ONS report into changes in self-employment in the UK, whilst Hackney bucked the trend until later on.

As a percentage of all economically active people, in April-2018-2019, the percentage of self-employed workers in Wandsworth was 16.6%, compared to Hackney’s 14.1%.

In April 2021-March 2022, these figures stood at 12.2% and 15.6% respectively.

The London average was, 13.5%, in April 2018-March 2019, and 11% in April 2021-March 2022.

Its difficult to draw precise comparisons between the self-employed report and the business demographics report, because the latter records trends annually, as opposed to monthly.

But the evidence does show Wandsworth and Hackney both either outperformed, or underperformed, London’s average at different points between 2018 and 2022, before adjusting in the period ending July 2023 to 9.6% and 8.2%

When asked about their life as a self-employed business owner in Wandsworth, Jonathan Hearn, owner of Stratton Cycles, said he loves the area and his loyal customers, but it can be a struggle.

He said: “As good as Wandsworth is, its hard to be self-employed in any town in London and as a business owner it can sometimes be worrying. 

“People go on long holidays, so it’s very important to plan for the months of the year when business is not as good as it would normally be.

“And you always have to think about money.

“Did I save enough to get me through the holiday, what if I’m sick, are there enough savings? It can be stressful but extremely satisfying at the same time.”

Contacted regarding the drop, Wandsworth Council indicated there were many reasons behind why a business might close, most of which are not specific to the borough.

They further stated: “Wandsworth will have previously had, and will continue to have, many more active businesses than some other places.”

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