In what has been another tumultuous and unpredictable year, today’s Small Business Saturday celebrations mark a welcome respite from the chaos: a chance for all of us to come together and support the independent firms at the heart of our communities.
The festivities are being held against an uncertain and stifling backdrop. Our Small Business Index confidence measure shows optimism among firms in negative territory for five straight quarters – a malaise not witnessed since we launched the study in the immediate aftermath of the financial crash.
Clearly, it’s more important than ever that – on today of all days – shoppers get out and spend with their local independent firms.
They did so in great numbers last year – shelling out more than £800 million on Small Business Saturday 2018. The dream of a £1 billion spend is within reach.
And – with a general election just days away – this is the perfect opportunity for candidates to get out and meet, listen to, and understand the challenges facing small business owners in their constituencies. There are now a record 5.8 million of us and, here at FSB, we’re encouraging every one to make their voice heard this week.
Engagement with all of the major parties has been promising.
We hosted the three prospective Chancellors at a hustings last week, and they all have plenty to offer: from the Conservative pledge to uprate the £3,000 discount on national insurance bills available to small firms through the Employment Allowance; to Labour’s unequivocal commitment to end the £2.5 billion late payment crisis; to the Liberal Democrats’ important stand on the loan charge – a retrospective tax grab that’s making life a misery for thousands of modestly paid contractors.
As in business as in politics: words are one thing, delivery is quite another.
Supporting small businesses
Back to today though, where a big focus is supporting the independent shops, cafes, restaurants, cinemas, nail bars and barbers on our high streets. One thing’s for sure, they need our support.
If confidence among the small business community as a whole is in short supply, amongst smaller retailers it’s all but evaporated. Well over half do not expect their performance to improve over the next three months.
The challenges facing them are manifest. At this juncture, though, it’s important to stress that the bricks versus clicks debate has been somewhat highjacked by those who believe that the two cannot coexist.
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Let’s be clear, the overwhelming majority of successful independent outlets on high streets have both a strong physical and online presence – like left hand working with right.
That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so critical that all small business owners have access to the broadband speeds they’re legally entitled to.
Vote with your feet
Ask a group of those same business owners about the biggest thorn in their side and the answer is often uniform: business rates.
This unfair tax – which hits firms before they’ve made a pound in turnover, let alone profit – is a relic on of a bygone age. But it continues to cause misery for thousands of firms every year – £25 billion worth of it.
We’ve been promised wholesale reform in the past. Now is the time to make it happen.
But let’s remember that Small Business Saturday is not about politics, it’s about voting with your feet.
It’s been a long 12 months. Give yourself a day off, get out to your favourite small firms and spend, spend, spend.
Mike Cherry OBE is national chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses which is a supporter of the Small Business Saturday campaign.