Is your favourite coffee shop still operating from morning until night? Has your hairdresser or barber reopened its doors after the second lockdown? These stark questions have run through the minds of millions of us as we adapt to the changes in our jobs, commute and home life amid the pandemic. After one of the worst years in living memory for small businesses, however, now is the chance to do something to help the traders that are a vital part of your community: go out, spend, and champion the contribution of your local firms at the start of December.
Small Business Saturday takes place tomorrow on December 5th. It is a special day to celebrate the impact of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which make up 99.9% of all businesses in the UK. The celebratory day, which was launched in the US in 2010, has surged in popularity and profile since it was initiated on these shores eight years ago. It can now count on American Express as its principal supporter and, having generated £800m in sales on Small Business Saturday last year, organisers hope to do even better in 2020.
As a businessman who has set up restaurants, a think tank, a cafe providing free meals for the homeless and the British Kebab Awards, I am passionate about investing in and growing small companies. And I am glad to see the ambition of Small Business Saturday burns as bright as ever despite the cloud of the pandemic hanging over us. It was great seeing Labour leader Keir Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds listening to the voice of small businesses ahead of Small Business Saturday through a webinar on Monday.
Yes, it has been a painful year – whether you measure that in terms of turnover, jobs, insolvencies or the dreams of entrepreneurs. Too many of our vital small firms were forced to close for good after the UK plunged into the worst recession on record. Before the pandemic, Britain’s 5.9 million SMEs employed an estimated 16.6 million people. These numbers have, sadly, fallen this year and despite the late extension to the furlough scheme may fall again before March 2021.
Ministers have taken various steps to try to support small firms and the labour market, but too many of the initiatives have been subject to delays in getting started, confusion in implementation or uncertainty over their future. Meanwhile, support for the self-employed has been piecemeal and insufficient.
Labour’s frontbench has done a great job in holding the government to account. The opposition led the way in calling for a short second lockdown to try to reduce the threat of the second wave of Covid while rightly demanding reforms to the furlough scheme. Many small business owners are worried, however, as to what will happen now that the national lockdown in England has ended.
Will Boris Johnson stick to his word? It is a question that hangs over British politics like never before. The Prime Minister’s U-turns were once a source of laughter but now, deep into the pandemic, his inadequate and intermittent support for the NHS and small business is deeply worrying.
Outside Westminster, I know the vast majority of people living in the UK will want to support our small businesses. Join me in making December 5th the biggest and best Small Business Saturday. Yes, of course we must carry out our shopping trips in line with the latest government guidance – but please use this day to visit your local businesses, spend your money with them and show them the support they always need, but never take for granted. Our high streets depend on you, and you depend on our high streets. Let’s ensure our treasured small businesses can bounce back next year. Wherever you live, and whatever you purchase, support Small Business Saturday.