Friday, 10 April 2009

Supporting Small Business and Small Towns

We need a new fresh approach to supporting small town and rural businesses, the lifeblood of our small towns and the rural economy in Monmouth constituency and much of rural Wales.
Many people recognize that for some groups of people in rural areas, economic and social problems are increasing; effective Government and Local Government indifference to the rural economy and rural economic needs continues to have a damaging impact on our communities.

It is time for Gordon Brown’s Labour Government to wake up and to work with the Plaid driven One Wales National Assembly Government to actively support and encourage rural economic activity – because without a prosperous rural economy many of our smaller communities are at risk of quietly and effectively dying.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) notes that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and that of this continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business, something that will hit both consumers and our communities hard as they lose any real choice in the marketplace. Over recent years in the small towns across Monmouthshire, the once particularly rich mix of local shops, small businesses and local suppliers have come under increasing pressure as the usual suspects in the shape of “identikit” chain stores have replicated themselves across our nation's high streets.”

A few years ago The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England report ‘Rural Roulette’, which focuses on the area around the small town of Saxmundan (in Suffolk) revealed that 81 shops surveyed employed 548 people, with 317 employees working part-time. They discovered that local small businesses were very flexible and able to fit in odd hours, at odd times for their staff and that many employees travelled short distances to their place of work and the majority of employees were women.

The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England noted the following:
  • There was a loss of choice as it becomes harder to buy local foods. 64% of the local shops in Fakenham, Norfolk, and 75% of those in Warminster, Wiltshire, closed when new superstores were built in those towns. Most supermarkets sell very little locally sourced produce, with only 1-2% of their turnover coming from local foods, so, when local shops close, the outlet for local produce disappears with them.
  • there was a loss of jobs as local businesses close. Supermarket domination of the retail trade puts the local food infrastructure at risk threatening the viability of local abattoirs, wholesalers and small farms and the associated jobs. A study by the National Retail Planning Forum in 1998 of 93 new superstores found that each one resulted in a net loss of 270 local jobs.
  • There was a loss of character, as once distinctive lively town centre's become 'clone towns'. Local shops and services depend on each other for survival. As independent shops close, once vibrant market towns can become retail deserts (or ghost towns). Where shops are taken over by national chains, creeping homogenisation creates clone towns.
  • There was a loss of landscape when traditional farming practices are discontinued. River valley meadows, marshes, heaths and pastures need to be grazed by livestock to maintain their appearance and wildlife, but the supply of meat from such animals, often traditional breeds, is often considered too small and intermittent to suit supermarket specifications.

An economically active local network of food producers, wholesalers and local retailers help to sustain many other jobs within the local economy. Local businesses provide work for trade’s people such as electricians, builders and plumbers – whereas national chains tend to employ people from outside of the area for renovation and repair work. There other beneficial knock on effects with local employment in banking, accountancy, legal advice, insurance, etc – all of which underpin the viability of our small towns.

We need to develop more sustained long-term initiatives that are designed to promote new and existing businesses in our small towns and rural areas. Our often hard-pressed existing small businesses, local retailers and suppliers provide much-needed jobs for local people and provide a linked network of businesses that use each other’s services and feed the local economy. Small shops and local retailers provide a significant social network for many local people and passers by and add to the long-term viability and vitality of our communities.

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