If you follow any politicians on social media you may have seen them pictured in a local business over the last week or so. This wasn’t just about early Christmas shopping or buying some sausages from the local deli. There was a serious point to me dotting from Roots Soda in Granton to Tait’s Jeweller and gemologist in Rose Street to Rosevear Tea and Concrete Wardrobe in Broughton Street – politicians should remember how small businesses work.
They’re the small shops – from newsagents to cafes, hairdressers to takeaways – that keep our communities going; it’s your local plumber with a small workshop, the window cleaner, the artist in a small studio, the childminder, the car servicing garage. They are 98 per cent of the companies in Scotland and they employ 930,000 people – that’s a lot in a country with a working age population of just three and a half million.
Helping those companies grow and expand would provide more jobs and we should be focusing on that kind of solid growth. That’s why it’s worrying to be hearing the mutterings of some politicians that the Small Business Bonus should go. That rates relief programme that was introduced in 2008 has saved lots of small businesses from going broke, it’s been keeping people in work for nearly a decade and it would be extremely foolish to close it down now.
It needs more than just rates relief, though. Businesses need to be able to speak to customers and suppliers, need to get their products out and their raw materials in. If those are actual, tangible things they need roads, railways, investment in that infrastructure. Online businesses need fast broadband (other businesses use the internet as well, of course) and that needs investment in that infrastructure.
That investment is being choked by the austerity programmes of the UK Government – money to build and maintain infrastructure is just not there and that’s causing problems. We need to see that austerity ended and the investment starting to flow again. The Scottish Government’s investment in broadband rollout has been showing great progress in the past few years and that should be expanded in the coming years, including getting the speed up.
Councils across Scotland should be trying to keep roads open and traffic flowing, avoiding delaying supplies coming in or goods going out, we should be cracking on with dualling the A9, improving our rail network and growing overseas markets – and we’ve also got to protect the postal system for microbusinesses. If our small businesses suffer we’ll all suffer; let’s get the investment right.
Deidre Brock is SNP MP for Edinburgh North and Leith