Copyright: Chris Bertram/
Copyright: Chris Bertram/

Today is Small Business Saturday, a chance to celebrate businesses that are the backbone of British economy and society.

Even before the pandemic, small businesses were struggling. Changing shopping behaviour, a crunch in global supply chain, staff shortages and competition from large multinationals were only some of the pressures they faced.

The pandemic has simply exacerbated these factors. The last couple of years have been tough for all of us, but for many people running small businesses, their livelihoods were also under attack.

In Bristol West, shops, restaurants and those that depended on tourists felt the greatest shock. But across many sectors, businesses saw lower earnings did offer some support through deferments, loan schemes and grants. Unfortunately, fraud and error led to the loss of billions. Many of those who needed help the most, got left out.

In spite of these circumstances, businesses helped us cope and emerge stronger. From stepping in to feed our children when the government was found wanting, to producing sanitisers and PPE equipment, I know many small businesses in Bristol stepped up in the last couple of years.

Economic recovery has been slow. According to data by the Centre for Cities, footfall in physical stores in Bristol is only at 81% of pre-pandemic levels. A few months ago we heard the sad news that M&S planned to close its store in Broadmead. A few months before that it was Debenhams. The closure of these landmark chain stores could have a negative knock-on effect on small businesses if our cities become ghost towns with empty buildings.

If we want to maintain our leadership as an entrepreneurial and innovative economy, we must do more to back those who dare to dream. Starting your own business has never been an easy proposition. It is even tougher today. If we want to maintain our city centres as vibrant hubs we must protect our high-streets.

For these reasons, I support plans by Labour to cut business rates immediately and eventually scrap them. I would like to see the onus shifted to large multinational companies who have made millions in profit as our lives have moved online, rather than taxing locally-focused businesspeople fighting to make a decent living, doing what they love.

Small businesses developing the solutions to climate change

A Labour government will invest £28 billion per year to tackle the climate emergency. This will have a huge, positive effect on small businesses.

Investing in businesses that help save our climate is a great way to foster innovation and help those who are working hard every day in dealing with our most pressing crisis. Yesterday I met representatives from green and tech startups based in Bristol West to ask them what they need to support and expand their vital work.

I met companies involved in preventing microplastic pollution, promoting reusable coffee cups and the use of electric cars. I learnt a lot from these discussions and will be sharing some of the points that emerged. Watch this space for more.

The government has abdicated its responsibility in protecting those that have pulled our economy for decades. Small businesses are critical for fostering innovation and growing local communities. I will continue to strive as MP for Bristol West and Shadow Leader of the House of Commons in ensuring they get the support they need.

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