Last weekend it was great to celebrate Small Business Saturday. Now in its ninth year in the UK, Small Business Saturday is a grassroots campaign to celebrate all types of small businesses. In my national role I popped up the road to visit the world famous Bury market, before coming home to do a bit of shopping in Tameside. Despite the awful weather, it was great to see places like Stalybridge town centre and Lymefield Garden Centre in Broadbottom busy and bustling.
Small Business Saturday is about more than publicity and moral support however. Last year, over a billion pounds was spent in the UK’s small businesses on the day itself. After a very difficult 18 months for many businesses, let’s hope this year’s event was even more successful.
In recent times there has been a huge switch to online retailing. We all use online shopping from time to time – if you lead a busy life it can be essential – but we have to understand that if we don’t use local businesses they won’t be there forever. Clearly town centres need to switch to a greater mix of leisure and residential use, but I for one would sorely miss it if retail was no longer part of that picture.
As well as events like Small Business Saturday, we do need some real reforms to ensure the long term viability of many small businesses. Business rates, in particular, are extremely outdated and need wholesale replacement. For an area like Tameside they are particularly counterproductive. To give two examples from my constituency, if a pub invests money to renovate itself and attract new custom, it will result in them playing higher business rates than a competitor which has not done so. This is because the value of the property, and by extension its rates bill, will have been increased.
Tameside also has double the national average of people working in manufacturing, but if a business in this sector invests in solar panels, insulation, ventilation, or some other important improvement, the same problem occurs.
This also means that businesses that are mainly internet-based, with no or much smaller physical premises, face a much lower tax bill. It’s a huge disincentive to investment and entrepreneurship, which is why we’ve promised Labour will scrap this regressive system.
In the meantime I want to see business rates cut immediately next year, paid for by an increase in the Digital Services Tax (the tax paid by large multi-national firms whose revenue comes from search engines or online marketplaces) from 2% to 12%.
With the right changes at the top, I am confident we will be able to celebrate many Small Business Saturdays to come. Let’s make it happen.