Last week the Sunday Times included Whitchurch village, Cardiff in its 101 best places to live in Britain. The list featured Welsh towns including Abergavenny, Brecon, Hawarden, Laugharne, Rhossili, and Tenby. One important reason for selection was thriving village shops offering everything from an award winning butcher to a bike shop – an old fashioned high street.
The newspaper used several criteria that together make a great place to live. For example, Skipton in Yorkshire came top for its low crime rates, good schools, great transport links, beautiful surrounding countryside and significantly ‘a buzzing high street dominated by independent shops’. Thriving small business is at the heart of what makes a place great to live.
Small businesses are good for building communities. Out-of-town retail developments – too often built as the answer to regeneration in the 80s and 90s – do the opposite. Brian Morgan’s recent review of Small Business rates in Wales noted ‘Decline in town centre activity also implies threats to wider areas of Welsh society, health, and environment.” Small business is good for our health!
Thriving independent shops are found side by side with other small business in town centres, from independent coffee shops to local market traders, from a trusted family solictiors to a local optician – businesses rooted in communities are good for our economy too.
Labour recent task force on Small businesses pointed out that small businesses make up 99% of all businesses in the UK. They employ 14.1 million people, almost 60% of private sector employment, and account for almost half of private sector turnover.
Importantly, smaller businesses create 34% of new jobs and are much more likely to recruit people directly from unemployment. Since the economic downturn almost 9 in 10 unemployed people who found work in the private sector either started up or worked for a small business. Economic recovery comes from small, fast growing enterprises.
Because small business is so important for the recovery we need to set up the conditions for bold and determined entrepreneurs can take the risks for all of us.
Celebrating small business
Small Business Saturday was brought to the UK by Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary who brought the idea from the US. The first event ever last December is estimated to have raised £500 million for small business in the UK.
Over 50 small businesses in Whitchurch took part offering discounts or promotions and the village was awash with balloons . The day showed the power of people working together. There was a real buzz around the village and the challenge now is to turn the day into longer term success because our economic success depends on it.
Here are just some of the key issues small business owners raise with me, along with Labour’s proposals to address each concern.
- Access to finance: Labour has long called for a British Investment Bank to loan to small business supported by a network of regional banks
- Access to government contracts: Small Business Administration similar to the successful model in the US which supports small business.
- Problem of late payments: Chuka Ummuna recently announced Labour aims to put in place a regime automatically triggering action against late payer
The Welsh Government has introduced a number of schemes to help small businesses with their rates including incentives to occupy shops that have been left vacant. Devolving these rates entirely will build in more local incentives for local authorities to attract small businesses.
It is absolutely right that Labour’s manifesto both for 2015 and our policy in government here in Wales continues to support small business people whose courage, determination and wit will be the basis of the recovery and they are our only hope of bringing life back to every local high street – to the heart of our communities.
Mari Williams is Labour’s PPC for Cardiff North