FOR many years now, latterly in conjunction with the Chamber of Trade, I have promoted the idea of buying some Christmas presents locally, particularly from smaller independent retailers, and there are some great examples to choose from in Kenilworth and in my wider constituency.
This year and last, this campaign has felt all the more important. Running a small business has never been easy, but the pandemic has made it even harder, especially in retail. Sometimes unable to open at all or only with restrictions, small shops have lost out to large internet retailers as we all learned to shop online. Despite fewer limits on our actions this December than last, Covid has not disappeared entirely and media attention to new variants has kept many people nervous. In any event, shopping habits were changing even before Covid19 and we may never go back to buying things entirely as we used to. None of this means of course that small shops are doomed. In them you can still find that unique gift and the personal service and advice that makes your shopping trip more rewarding, and on the streets you are shopping in you can still find a festive atmosphere your computer screen just can’t give you, but our smaller shops do need our help. We all want to see the diversity they bring to our high streets, and Christmas is the perfect time to do our bit to make sure they can continue to do that.
Customers are vital, but small businesses need other types of help too. I was pleased to see many businesses in our area take advantage of Government support made available in various forms during the pandemic period. This was a huge and costly exercise but without it our economy would now be significantly weaker and some local businesses might not be here at all. Government can help in other ways too. A wide set of skills is needed to make a business successful and those skills have to be developed.
Since August, businesses have been able to access a Government initiative called Help to Grow: Management, which provides businesses with access to management and leadership training at only ten per cent of its cost. They will soon be able to make use of Help to Grow: Digital too, which will offer free and impartial advice online about the right software to buy and significant discounts in buying it. If you think these schemes may benefit you or your business, you can find more details at https://helptogrow.campaign.gov.uk/ In the meantime, I wish all our local businesses, and their customers, happy Christmas shopping.