Islington launches pioneering policy to make workspaces affordable for all

Islington Council has unveiled a trailblazing new approach to ensuring local business talents have the vital space and support they need to grow – at prices they can afford.

The council has already secured approximately 4,000 sq metres of office and workshop space – equivalent to more than three Olympic-sized swimming pools – in commercial developments that will be let to local entrepreneurs and start-ups at genuinely affordable rates.

The below-market-rate workspace will become available over the next three years as office buildings are completed, with yet more space to be secured in future years through the planning process.

Powering the new Affordable Workspace Strategy is the council’s ambition to create genuinely affordable workspace in Islington, for Islington – the central plank of an inclusive economy creating good jobs for local people, and giving local start-ups and entrepreneurs the chance to thrive and network in areas they would otherwise be priced out of.

The council has negotiated leases of high-quality office space from developers at very low rents for between 10 and 20 years, which will then be managed on the council’s behalf by a variety of carefully selected affordable workspace providers.

In a UK first, social value will be embedded in the contracts, with space offered to providers at a peppercorn rent in return for them creating long-term benefits for local people and businesses.

The workspace providers will deliver a range of education, training and employment opportunities for local people, including young people who don’t have qualifications or women returning to the workplace – and targeting recruitment in areas of high unemployment.

The business expertise of successful and established local firms will also be unlocked through skills training, networking, sharing knowledge and best practice.

The council expects that aspiring entrepreneurs will find just as much value in these measures as the discounted rents, which will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Cllr Asima Shaikh, the council’s executive member for economic development, said: “I’m proud to be offering real, meaningful help to Islington entrepreneurs whose fledgling businesses are being suffocated or pushed out by unaffordable rents.

“This strategy creates a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to set up in world-class business clusters. As a council we are uniquely placed to get the best business brains of today working with the best of tomorrow.

“Affordable workspace with added social value means Islington residents with the next big ideas can not only afford to get them off the ground, but can really capitalise on the wealth of business knowledge and upskilling opportunities Islington offers. This will mean they can still innovate and create new, decent and secure jobs for other local people – and spend locally, too.

“I’m confident this initiative will help towards an economy that works for all, tackling Islington’s underlying poverty, disadvantage and social inequality, and make this a fairer borough.”

The first genuinely affordable workspaces will be available in January 2019, offering micro and small businesses a base that is local, affordable and flexible enough to grow with them in those crucial early stages.

The Affordable Workspace Strategy builds on the council’s £2million plans to provide or secure space for micro, small and medium-sized businesses in Finsbury Park, announced earlier this year and supported by the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund.

Notes to editor

Micro (0-9 employees) and small businesses (10-49 employees) make up 98% of Islington’s businesses and employ 7% of its workers. These businesses are a key driver for economic activity in Islington’s town centres and business clusters.

Workspace providers will be drawn from the private, social enterprise and charity sectors.

The council successfully bid for a £1.03m grant from the Mayor of London’s Good Growth Fund, which it will match pound-for-pound and invest in at least four new properties in Finsbury Park, where affordable workspace will be offered to local start-up businesses and entrepreneurs.

The workspace already secured includes prestigious locations such as the White Collar Factory at Old Street, The Farmiloe Building in St John Street and The Ray in Farringdon Road, site of the former headquarters of The Guardian newspaper. Prime spots in Caledonian Road and Finsbury Park (where disused garages are being converted into 600 sq metres of office space) have also been secured.

As a London Living Wage landlord, Islington Council will ensure that all our affordable workspace providers pay their staff the London Living Wage.

Loss of office floor space: Since 2013, approximately 5,000 sq metres of office floor-space have been lost in Islington as a result of the office to residential Permitted Development Right. The council sought legal powers to remove these permitted development rights across the borough, but when this was turned down by the Secretary of State it secured the power for a smaller area of the borough.

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