mari williams small business
Mari Williams: small businesses are part of what makes communities

Britain’s first Small Business Saturday was a big success.

Chuka Umunna first highlighted Small Business Saturday in Cardiff when he visited a farmer’s market in Llandaff North back in June.

Since then, independent local traders have worked together to celebrate Small Business Saturday. Over 50 small businesses in Whitchurch took part offering discounts or promotions and the village was awash with balloons .

The day demonstrated the power of people working together. There was a real buzz around the village and the challenge will be to turn the day into longer term success.

I have enjoyed getting to know some of the people behind the local businesses in the run up to Small Business Saturday. In talking to them I have become ever more passionate about the importance of small business, not just to the economy but our communities. And this is why:

1. Small business drives the economy
Small businesses provide most of the private sector jobs in Wales. Small businesses across the UK provide 60% of private sector jobs and 33% of private sector turnover and 47% of employment. (Federation of Small Business figures) But there is a lot more than the benefits of hard economics and jobs brought by small businesses. Cardiff North doesn’t have just one centre but is a series of suburban villages. From Llandaff North to Old St Mellons, people want to live not just next to shops but be part of communities.

2. Admiration of entrepreneurship
It takes courage to go it alone and start a business. I recenlty met Vivian who lost her job when a prominent Cardiff home furnishings store closed its doors. With her business partner they decided to use their expertise to go it alone. Haus is now a small and thriving business in Rhiwbina. As is Sugar Mouse House, a chocolate shop owner who benefits from a business mentor provided free by the Welsh Government. Last week I met a woman   from Llanishen who is on maternity leave, and decided to set up a new business. HopnSqueak, making squeaky shoes that mean children get extra fun when learning to walk! It is inspiring to hear the stories that finally made people take the plunge.

3. Heart of community
Small business are part of what make communities . My great aunt ran a newsagent in Cwmafon, in the Afan Valley. In true Welsh tradition she was known as ‘Mag the shop’ and her shop put her at the heart of the community. Newspapers were for the national news, local was by word of mouth.

Rhiwbina, the suburban village where I grew up was once like this but there was a time in the 1990s when it looked like it was in decline and only the estate agents would survive. But there has been a shift and businesses are returning to the area. We now have two cafes, some wonderful gift shops, a butcher, a baker, home furnishings and a wine shop as well as estate agents, garage and travel agent – to name but a few. Rhiwbina is thriving. Older people especially benefit from the social connections that come with small business.

It’s not all good news however. One local restaurant owner in another part of Cardiff I spoke to this week told me about the cost of his gas bill in his restaurant that was crippling his business. £600 a month and business rates of £3000.

I was delighted when Ed Miliband announced in September that a Labour government would cut then freeze business rates if elected – showing Labour’s understanding of the challenges small business face. In Wales, Business rates will now be devolved and a review by Brian Morgan, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Cardiff Met University will examine the priorities to help business thrive.

In October, Edwina Hart, Labour’s Welsh Economy Minister announced two new business rate schemes: Open for Business – giving 50% relief on business rates for the first 12 months on eligible properties. The New Developments Scheme will exempt all new commercial property from business rates for first 18 months.

These policies are a start in showing the importance Labour puts on supporting small business.

4. A way to build new communities
There are plans to build 40,000 more homes in Cardiff which the city needs. However the challenge for planners and for all of us is to ensure that this development is not built around supermarkets and motorways but small shops and walking, cycling and public transport. As America’s legendary Jane Jacobs argued, the safety and life of a city comes from a mix of housing, a variety of businesses and the eyes of the street.

5. Strength in diversity
In the run up to Christmas many of the small businesses have been working together to attract people to the centres. From Christmas lights and a fair in Llandaff North & Tongwynlais to Santa on his sleigh in Llanishen to Sam Warburton switching on the lights in Rhiwbina. Working together brings huge benefits – and can be counter-intuitive for people used to the cut and thrust of competition.

So with Small Business Saturday 2013 behind us, the work now begins to make the choices in our everyday lives that create our desired communities. Labour needs to champion the needs of small business to kick start the economy, generate jobs, boost communities and celebrate entrepreneurship.

I know small businesses will be working together but they’ll need your support. So if you want small businesses to thrive, change your habits. Take a walk, or a cycle and fill your panniers with goods from small, independent traders.

Shop small – not just for the Christmas holiday season.

Mari Williams is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Cardiff North

A version of this article was first published in LabourList

5 Benefits of Vibrant Small Business Sector
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