Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary and MP for Streatham, says buying local will help the ‘British Dream’ become a reality
Across the pond, they have the “American Dream” – a reverence for the little guy, the belief in the power of enterprise to transform lives and make the world a better place.
But small business is a strong thread in our own national story here in Britain too, an important element of how we see ourselves. Most of us will know the name of the man or woman behind the counter at the newsagent where we buy our morning paper and milk. We rely on “white van man” to put things right when we have a crisis at home, like when the boiler needs fixing. We’ll all have a family member or friend who has taken the risk by starting out on their own, setting up a business or becoming self-employed.
Small firms are also part of the fabric of our communities. We worry about local shops closing in our villages, towns and cities, taking the heart out of the High Street. A trader in my constituency once told me that as well as being his livelihood and a thriving local firm, he also sees his business as a community centre: a place where people stop, meet each other and say hello amid the hubbub of a busy working day.
So we must do everything we can to celebrate and promote Britain’s small firms and those who work tirelessly running them.
That’s why I wanted to see Small Business Saturday brought here to Britain. It has already been a huge success in the States, where it follows immediately after Thanksgiving and ‘Black Friday’ – the start of the Christmas shopping period. It is one day when consumers are encouraged to purchase from small, local shops and service-providers, and which shines a spotlight on the huge contribution of small business to national life. Last year, $5.5bn rang through the tills of small businesses on the day.
It all began exactly a year ago. I first learned about Small Business Saturday when I saw US celebrities and politicians pop up on Twitter, singing the praises of small businesses. I saw the huge impact and awareness it has, and thought: why don’t we have this here in Britain too?
Since then, a broad coalition and campaign has been brought together to make the UK’s first ever Small Business Saturday a reality, including business organisations, local authorities and town councils of all political stripes and above all small businesses and their owners. It is great that the Prime Minister has recently given his backing too – this is a grassroots, cross-party campaign.
This coming Saturday, December 7, will be the UK’s first ever Small Business Saturday and is set to be the biggest celebration of small business this country has ever seen. A whole host of events are being planned in localities across Britain, with fairs, pop up shops, special offers and more. The Small Business Saturday bus, which I joined last week, has been touring the country, promoting the day and providing free workshops for small business owners.
As Shadow Business Secretary I get the opportunity to meet business owners across the country, to hear about the fantastic work they do and also the many challenges they face. There are many things we need to get right in order to back our wealth creators, who are currently facing a cost of doing business crisis every bit as severe as the cost of living crisis which is hitting families’ pockets.
Labour’s energy price freeze would save firms on average £1,800 a year. We’re also demanding action on business rates – if elected in 2015 we will cut, then freeze, business rates for smaller firms. We have also backed plans for start ups to get access to broadband more quickly and we want to see regulation drawn up with the little guy in mind. Too many small businesses are still finding it impossible to get access to the finance they need to grow and are being let down by the banks. We want to see the creation of a British Investment Bank supported by a network of local and regional banks to help get finance flowing to businesses again.
Whilst these are just some of the policy challenges which need to be tackled, Small Business Saturday is something simple and effective which we can all take part in now to make a real difference at a time when many firms are struggling. I hope it will also provide a welcome opportunity to give small businessmen and women the recognition they deserve.
So, if you’re doing Christmas shopping this Saturday, why not try a local shop? If you’re placing an order for a service, use a small provider. Take a moment to thank those who work hard, take a risk, providing that level of personal service which you can’t get elsewhere.
Together, this weekend, let’s help make the British Dream a reality and raise three cheers for Britain’s small businesses.