Small businesses are the lifeblood of the British Economy

Despite all our economic difficulties, there’s been a few reasons for some Surbiton businesses to celebrate recently.  

At the end of October, Surbiton was awarded “Town Team” partner status – a new idea to support local high streets. Amongst other things, this will help promote Surbiton’s independent shops and cafes, with one idea being a ‘community card’ loyalty scheme in which local businesses group together to offer discounts and vouchers. So it should also be good news for you if you shop locally.

I was keen to back Surbiton’s bid – not least because when I was a Minister in the Department of Business, I was asked to work with retail guru Mary Portas to develop new ideas to boost flagging high streets, and her “Town Team” idea was one of her best.

Two of Berrylands’ local businesses  had special reasons to celebrate, and they were kind enough to ask me to join them. This year is the 50th anniversary of a wonderful traditional greengrocers – Stears. It was good to see Martin and Wendy, still working hard through the festivities – and Martin’s parents, Charlie and Amy who started the family business. (..and it’s 155 Surbiton Hill Park if you like good fruit and veg!). It was also good to join a local pharmacist, Pravina Patel, who has moved her “Newman’s Pharmacy” – from near my office to new premises on the Ewell Road – where we hope they will be able to help people using the new health centre there when it opens this coming spring

If you are a small business owner, I’m keen to hear from you – so feel free to come to any of my twice weekly local advice surgeries. As a party, the Liberal Democrats have recently launched their small business survey which can be completed at www.listeningtobusiness.org.  I would strongly encourage all small business owners to complete this; the responses go directly to Danny Alexander MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

In Government, on your side

In government my colleagues have been fighting the case of small businesses.  Vince Cable MP is working with the banks to improve the access to credit for small businesses.  I have seen a number of local businesses suffer as a result of problems getting affordable credit, and despite a lot of effort to date, this remains one of the top issues facing firms across the UK.

One issue that also comes up is employment legislation – where it’s key to get the balance right – both to help small firms and their employees.  This is another subject I worked on when a Business Minister, and this week, Nick Clegg MP announced the fruit of my past work, so that from 2015 maternity leave will become far more flexible – which should help both parents and firms.  

Instead of the current system when mothers and fathers are individually prescribed the amount of leave they can take there will be an allocation of 52 weeks per couple.  After the first two weeks of maternity leave, this can be divided up between the mother and father as suits their working arrangements.  This reflects the greater role which women now play in the family economy and it will have a real and positive impact on businesses as it will enable them to recruit and retain staff from a wider pool of talent. Moreover, under the current rules, there is a disincentive for mothers to return to work, even part-time or even for special projects. Our plans will help employers and employees come to arrangements that work best for both sides   More information on this announcement can be found at www.bis.gov.uk.

If you have views on this or other business issues, please do contact me.