Our small and not so small towns (in Monmouth constituency any beyond) have suffered from ill-thought out development and short term economic thinking and as our local small to medium sized businesses have suffered, so have our consumers have paid the price with a loss of local services and real choice in the marketplace.
Most people can clearly see that the rich individual character of many of our towns is evaporating before their eyes. Our High streets once filled with a rich mix of interdependent butchers, newsagents, tobacconists, pubs, bookshops, greengrocers and family owned general stores are now rapidly filling with supermarket stores, fast food chains and global fashion outlets.
This is a result of a failure by local and central government to develop local economic plans and to create a level playing field for local businesses and suppliers. When combined with some extremely questionable planning decisions over the last thirty years; this has lead to many of our town centre's being "regenerated" to the point where many of our local small businesses are clinging on by their finger tips. The loss of that sense of community is aggravated as our high streets lose their distinctive local shops which are replaced by “micro-format” supermarket or chain store branches.
This is not about nostalgia; the loss of locally owned shops and businesses damages the local economy as profits drain out of the area to remote corporate headquarters and more flexible local employment opportunities are destroyed. An economically active local network of food producers, wholesalers and local retailers help to sustain many other jobs within the local economy – far more jobs than a hypermarket and associated retail development.
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.
The Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England report ‘Rural Roulette’, which focused 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. Local small businesses were more flexible and able to fit in odd hours, at odd times for their staff. The report also noted that many employees travelled significantly shorter distances to their place of work and the majority of employees were women.
Further research for the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England reveals that money spent in local businesses stays in the local economy three times longer than when spent in shops belonging to the larger retail chains. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) notes that the UK is losing 2,000 local shops every year and they estimate that if this rate of loss continues then by 2015 there will be no independent retailers left in business.
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, rather than detrimental retail developments that will help run them into the ground and damage the local economy. 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 passersby and add to the long term viability and vitality of our communities. Don’t say that you have not been warned…