Small Business Saturday: 1st December 2015

Graham Stringer (in the Chair)
Before I call John McNally, may I check with the Minister that he has had permission to speak?

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
indicated assent.
John Mc Nally (Falkirk) (SNP)
Thank you, Mr Stringer. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing the debate on a subject that is close to my own heart.

As a small business owner, being a hairdresser and running a business employing staff, I appreciate the commitment and training that goes into running a small business for more than 50 years. I appreciate the trials and tribulations of people running their own business and what a powerful driver the small business sector is for growth and competition across the economy.

As the vice-chair—soon to be the chair, hopefully—of the all-party group on the hair industry, I fully appreciate the work that has gone into the Hair Council, which I believe includes more than 250,000 hairdressing businesses in Britain. It supplies a huge amount of effort and employment, especially in support of local town centres. I welcome the opportunity to support the Small Business Saturday campaign and to highlight the business successes in my constituency and throughout Falkirk district.

Over the past two years alone, more than 1,057 new businesses in my constituency have been registered at Companies House. Falkirk has benefited from the steady increase in successful entrepreneurship and business development, with many successful businesses supplying other local businesses in the area. That is in no small part due to initiatives such as Small Business Saturday, a grassroots, non-commercial campaign that highlights ​small business success and encourages consumers to shop locally and support small businesses in their communities.

As my hon. Friend said, Small Business Saturday takes place on the first Saturday in December. It is my hope that the campaign will have a long-lasting effect on businesses and shopping habits in Falkirk and towns throughout the district, as well as Scotland-wide. Nationally, our small businesses are well supported by the Scottish Government’s small business bonus scheme, which has benefited more than 99,000 commercial properties in Scotland and helped the number of small businesses in Scotland to increase by more than 50% over the past 15 years.

Locally, Falkirk benefits from an excellent district business improvement team in the form of Falkirk Delivers, headed by Alex and Sarah. Their team have a similar ethos to that of Small Business Saturday and have the mantra of keeping things local, which is more than a “use it or lose it” message. It is about supporting businesses that have supported the town and have evolved the way in which they do business to benefit our communities and local people. It is about appreciating local knowledge, providing excellent customer service, and retaining money within our local economy to ensure that our towns are a thriving and vibrant place to shop, live and work, and providing a feel-good factor about them.

Falkirk benefits from a diverse range of businesses located at its core. The town has two covered shopping centres, Howgate and Callendar Square, in which national retail businesses are located, but what distinguishes Falkirk from other, larger towns is the diversity and range of smaller independent businesses. Falkirk also has a renowned and award-winning night-time economy, with a variety of pubs, cafés, restaurants and nightclubs, many of which are independently owned and managed.

Falkirk town centre, like many, has seen a change in the landscape over the past few years, as my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde mentioned. Some of our national retailers have moved away from their traditional high street presence, and vacancy rates have hovered around the national average, but our small retailers seem to have weathered the economic downturn of the past few years better than most. I will keep supporting those small businesses in the best way I can.

Small Business Saturday, on 5 December, is an ideal vehicle to remind people to shop locally—at Stenhousemuir, Larbert, Denny, Dunipace, Bonnybridge, Laurieston and Polmont. I hope I have not left anywhere out, or there will be hell to pay when I get home.

The Falkirk Delivers team has a marketing campaign using print and social media that features many of our local independents. For example, we have Gems Sweets, where we can still buy Spanish Gold, Chelsea Whoppers or Lucky Tatties—perhaps that does not fit well with yesterday’s debate about the war on sugar, but they are quite tasty. A fixture in our town for more than 100 years has been G.W. Smith cycle shop. We have Coffee on Wooer, a trendy new artisan coffee shop that always has a space for local musicians, poets and writers to do their thing. The town’s Howgate centre recently launched INDY, an independent marketplace with small unit space, ideal for the have-a-go entrepreneur. It offers the best of both worlds, because it is located in a busy shopping centre but is aimed at encouraging and growing unique and individual independent businesses.​

Such businesses are the heart of our town centre community. They are known, loved and trusted by locals and visitors alike. However, Small Business Saturday is not only about retail. Falkirk town centre is home to lawyers, accountants and translators—and we even have a 3D printer—all of whom rely heavily on local businesses, so Small Business Saturday and the wider “keep it local” campaign play a part for those services as well.

Falkirk Delivers and its partners are working on a range of projects and initiatives to continue to support the town centre during a time of change. With the £5 million-plus investment through the Townscape Heritage initiative, the successful launch of our “can do” space and projects such as the Carnegie Trust’s TestTown, the message is that Falkirk is very much open and ready for business. I totally support my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde on this issue.

The Minister for Small Business, Industry and Enterprise (Anna Soubry)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) for securing the debate and to everyone who has contributed to it. I will begin with some stats: 99.3% of United Kingdom businesses are small businesses. Small businesses employ 12.4 million people, which is 48% of total private sector employment. They have a combined annual turnover of £1.2 trillion, which is 33% of turnover in the private sector, and there are a record 5.4 million private sector businesses in 2015, which is an increase of 908,000 from the start of 2010. I say that to give context and to show that we should never underestimate the huge importance of our small businesses.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr Umunna) and others who brought Small Business Saturday to this country. It is a welcome American import that has been hugely successful. I was honoured to go to the launch of this year’s Small Business Saturday in July, where I learned a great deal. I was already a fan of it—it has been in place for a couple of years—but I had not appreciated this annual event’s importance for small businesses not just in having customers going along to celebrate and put their money where their mouth is, but in their relationships with each other. I was really struck by the fact that Small Business Saturday is a great opportunity for small businesses to develop and expand their networks and to learn much from each other.

The hon. Member for Inverclyde made the good point that Small Business Saturday is not just about celebrating retail, though there is nothing wrong with that. Small businesses in our high streets and towns encompass IT firms, accountants, solicitors, health providers and leisure providers—there is a long list.

Mr Umunna
I thank the Minister for her kind words. It is important to state that Small Business Saturday is not about being against our large businesses, because the relationship between our small and bigger businesses is symbiotic—they depend on each other. Small businesses are an important part of larger businesses’ supply chains, so overall this is a pro-business campaign for every business, whether big or small, because everyone benefits in the end.

Anna Soubry
I completely endorse everything the hon. Gentleman says. We should not forget that some small businesses are sole traders, while many will employ just one or two people. However, they are a critical part of the supply chain. Indeed, we should not forget the support that accountants and solicitors give to larger companies.

One of the downsides of being a Minister is that I am constrained about speaking in glowing terms about my constituency. All of us love to come to this place and champion our constituents, and rightly so. If I may, I will indulge my businesses and constituents with what I shall do this Saturday in celebration of Small Business Saturday, which is supported by the Government—goodness me, we all know that this is not a party political issue.

I shall probably begin at Bardills, which is an excellent garden centre—we forget how many garden centres are important small businesses—where I will order my Christmas tree. Then I shall go into Kimberley, which is one of three excellent towns. I shall enjoy a cup of coffee in Rumbletums and probably some cake over at Madhatters. I will go to a flower shop—I will be in trouble, because I could go to a number of good flower shops in my constituency, but the one in Kimberley is particularly good. I can buy fruit and vegetables in yet another great small business that, like so many, is family-run. Fred Hallam Ltd in Beeston goes back many generations, and while such families are running businesses they are providing a real service to their communities. We should not forget that.

When I go to the great shops and small businesses in my constituency, I really notice the level of care they give to customers. They know their customers and look after them by making sure that whatever they want is available. Such businesses are particularly keen to ensure that they provide an excellent service to older customers.

I will go into Beeston. The town unfortunately suffered because of the tram works that blighted it, but it is on its way up. Now we have got the tram, and we look forward to more people coming into the town and other people who previously shopped there coming back.

My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Nicola Blackwood) made a good point about the need for free parking. She talked about her own constituency, where there will be free parking this Saturday, and I am pleased that my borough council will have free parking throughout December. I have quite controversial views on parking, which we will not go into, but let me put it this way: the more towns that embrace free parking, the better. As I said, I shall go into Beeston and enjoy Fred Hallam Ltd—it has a fishmonger, which is rare.

Bill Esterson
To show the cross-party consensus on this issue, may I congratulate Sefton on providing free parking throughout December for the very purpose that the Minister describes?

Anna Soubry
I completely endorse that.

I will go to the deli and buy, if not fine cheese, some Blue Monkey beer called BG Sips, which I recommend to everyone. Microbreweries are another type of small business that employ people and contribute hugely to the local and national economy. Many are now stepping ​into exports, and the Government are keen to ensure that UK Trade & Investment looks at the benefits it can provide to small businesses.

No doubt I shall go into Relish, where I will have to have another bacon butty or some similar delight. That is another good example of a small business that is doing well. I shall finish in Stapleford, where I will go to an excellent small business that alters clothes—it has been going incredibly well and is now growing and leading the town team. No doubt, I will end up in Shabbylicious with yet another excuse to drink more tea or coffee and indulge in more cakes and mince pies.

I hope I have made a serious point. Small business are important to the economy, and the statistics show it. I want to finish on a hopefully positive note, which is about business rates: small businesses now pay less tax. We are supporting them by extending the doubling of small business rate relief in England to April 2017. More than 400,000 small businesses will pay no rates at all as a result of that welcome extension.

I know that all Members will be out there on Saturday celebrating Small Business Saturday. I am grateful to the Federation of Small Businesses, which brought the event to my constituency. I pay tribute to it, and to the Institute of Directors, the British Chambers of Commerce and everyone who supports this excellent initiative.

Question put and agreed to.