For the fifth year running, last Saturday was Small Business Saturday: a great opportunity to highlight the quality of our small local businesses, and encourage everyone to get behind them.
Everyone knows small businesses are a vital asset to our national economy. But they are also a crucial part of what makes our city and our towns and villages special in Herefordshire. Big companies have the brands and the headlines, but small businesses provide 60 per cent of the jobs. And almost every big company started off life as a small one.
Similarly, national retail chains are important; but what really makes a place feel special is its small shops and cafes. Walk through the Independent Quarter in Hereford, and you will be amazed by the quality of what is on offer, whether it be at the award winning cafes, independent food and drink specialists or fashion and jewellery shops.
Go to Whitchurch, and you will see what a difference Woods of Whitchurch has made to the community; and the same is true of Hopes of Longtown, and now Carrot & Wine Stores in Wormelow, and more than a dozen other villages across the county. There is a human dimension there, a friendliness and energy and personal warmth, that you won’t get from any online shop.
Many constituents have written to me recently regarding the new on-street parking restrictions in town, and I have been meeting with local businesses to discuss the impact that this has had on their trade. I have also spoken to the key people at the Council, and it is encouraging that they are offering free car parking vouchers to independent businesses who have been affected by these new charges.
Shopkeepers are not naïve: they understand that there is a case for charges. The key is to create a shopping environment that is flexible: that keeps the traffic flowing, that allows people to drop off and pick up items when they need to, and that encourages them to spend time shopping and eating and enjoying themselves in town. A long term solution is needed, and that means a cooperative approach that works street by street across the city.
Last year, £717 million was spent nationally on Small Business Saturday. As we get closer to Christmas, I would encourage everyone to visit our local independent shops—to discover their treasures, and just to have a good time.