West London Business Turns 30!

West London Business celebrates 30 years of making West London the best place to do business...

As we are firmly into 2024, West London Business has reached a significant milestone in its continued mission to make West London the best place to do business as the organisation turns 30 years old.

1994 was a different time…

  • The average UK Salary was £12,883 (£34,963 today), the National Minimum Wage Act did not yet exist
  • John Major was Prime Minister with John Smith Leader of the Opposition, replaced later that year by Tony Blair in tragic circumstances
  • University tuition fees were several years away and the cost of attending university was still subsidised by the Education Act 1962
  • The cost of petrol was 48.9 pence per litre
  • A Mars Bar would set you back 25p (+/- 80p today), a pint of milk was 36p (+/- 90p today)
  • The Channel Tunnel opened after six years of construction
  • Brazil won the 1994 FIFA World Cup – England didn’t qualify for the tournament

The West London landscape today is very different to that of 1994, with a new generation of challenges and issues to address. West London continues to be the world’s gateway to Britain and home to world-leading education institutions, digital and tech clusters and environmental and transport innovations.

As part of our 30th year, we are delighted to reveal a new WLB brand for the year (above) and the occasion will be fully celebrated, and open to all, at our Summer Reception in July – full details to follow in due course.

We extend our sincere thanks to our members, partners and supporters for being part of our journey over the last three decades and look forward to new collaborations in the years ahead! This summer we will update the short history of WLB, but in the meantime, learn all about the origins of West London Business from the article below, based on extracts from the WLB history produced in 2019 as part of our 25 year celebrations…

West London Chamber of Commerce was formed as a response to a report produced by Professor Bob Bennett, who was then in the Geography Department at the London School of Economics. Bennett was arguing the need for a restructuring of the Chamber network in London to strategic, sub-regional and better-resourced chambers. Andrew Ward was at the University of West London (then Thames Valley University) and got involved with a number of local chambers, chairing – for example – Ealing Chamber of Commerce.

He worked closely with Dr Phil Blackburn the Chief Executive of West London Training and Enterprise Council – and Michael Frye CBE the Chair of West London Leadership (who sadly passed away in 2012). The trio felt strongly that everyone would benefit from a more muscular Chamber network in London along the lines Bennett was proposing. The trio had strong support – via Frye – from local corporates, including Heathrow (then BAA) and GSK (then SmithKline Beecham).

The trio lobbied for change with the additional support of Simon Sperryn, the then CEO of London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and Ralph Ward, who had been seconded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (then Department for Trade & Industry) to the Government Office for London to help facilitate a regional restructuring of the London chambers and was based at both London Chamber and West London TEC. As part of this initiative, Andrew Ward became Chair of the London Chamber Network which comprised the 42 Chambers in London which bar London, Westminster and Croydon – were all minnows.

Discussions with the Chambers across London – and other bodies, e.g. Boroughs – were not exemplars of harmony and light and the initiative could not ultimately be said to have been a success. There were many reasons for this: it was not – by definition – a bottom-up process: it was imposed; turkeys on the whole do not vote for Christmas. The initiative leaders were negotiating with local chamber leaders who had no wish to relinquish their roles, several of whom had held them for many years, or diminish their influence. London Chamber’s position was always ‘interesting’.

Whilst they were involved for genuine reasons (and the initiators of the initiative certainly needed them to be on-board), the truth is that if the initiative had been successful across London they would have lost members and influence. Also, although this was the first time there had been any resources from central government and elsewhere put into to the Chamber movement in London, if the initiative were to have had any real hope of being effective there would have needed to be a much bigger budget/staff resource.

The initiative did establish West London Chamber of Commerce though (with Andrew Ward as Founder-Chair). In West London, Hounslow and Hillingdon local chambers did coalesce with WLB and remain strategic partners to this day. Other local chambers decided to associate themselves with London Chamber, who eventually acquired Ealing and Hammersmith & Fulham Chambers, only to wind up these local brands after incurring significant costs in 2018.

More broadly across London, however, the sub-regional model never emerged in the way that was hoped and envisaged. Although the landscape over the years has changed, a neat and tidy and strategically effective network never developed. For understandable reasons, Chambers became delivery vehicles for government initiatives and policy shifts, which meant inevitably that they became reliant on government funding and suffered the consequences when governments and policies change. At WLB, we have lived this story – going from 15+ staff at peak capacity to a modest but very effective team of three core staff plus associates and interns in 2016. Other Chambers and Chamber-like agencies have gone under.

It is recollected that founding directors Ronald Taylor, H. A. Bartlett and Elizabeth Boyd-Adams, who had careers dominated by Chamber work, were employed to do initial feasibility and start-up work for the chamber, establishing the company as a legal entity. The non-profit company limited by guaranteed was incorporated on 31 May 1994.

The new Chamber was funded by West London TEC – significantly – and by Heathrow and GSK who it is recollected contributed £15k of seed funding a year each for three years. Andrew Ward was the Founder Chair and initially employed Jessica Tyrrell, a contact of Ralph Ward, on a temporary contract.

West London Chamber and West London Leadership were co-sponsors of the West London Business Link which was licensed in 1996 and was co-located with West London TEC and West London Chamber of Commerce in Hounslow.

After an open interview Mark Arcari was appointed as the next Chief Executive of West London Chamber. He served until the end of December 1998.

Andrew Ward remained chair from 1995 until November 1999 when Geoff Pflaumer took over. Geoff worked for NEC at the time.

In these early years WLB operated very much in the chamber of commerce tradition, largely focussing on a networking events programme and building up the membership. The chamber would initially align with the London boroughs of Ealing, Hounslow, Richmond-upon-Thames and Hillingdon geography, but subsequently align with the north-west London boroughs of the West London Alliance group of local authorities.

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