Exit Streatham Hill train station and you step out on to Europe’s longest continuous high street. Sitting opposite the station is Daily Fresh Foods, which occupies the unit that once housed Premier, the UK’s first supermarket. Next to it is Streatham DIY, and nearby is Odak, a computing and printing firm situated next to my local newsagent, TS3.
These independent small businesses and the people who run them help make my constituency what it is. Small businesses give consumers greater choice and contribute to the unique character of every area, as the Telegraph’s “Reinvent the High Street” campaign has shown. The business owners work incredibly hard, often rising at some early hour to go the wholesalers to keep their businesses going.
And yet, as a nation, we do not celebrate nearly enough what small businesses do. Our nation’s small businesses provide almost two thirds of private sector employment and almost half of private sector turnover but they do not appear in a ‘British Dream’ in the way that entrepreneurs feature in the American Dream we hear so much about. We have got to change this and, in so doing, I believe we can learn from our friends across the Atlantic.
In the US, Small Business Saturday – established in 2010 – takes place on the first Saturday after Thanksgiving celebrations, one of the busiest shopping days of the year. It encourages people to shop at small independent businesses in their local area and celebrate small businesses’ contribution to their local economies. Last year’s Small Business Saturday helped drive sales of $5.5bn (£3.5bn) in small independent shops and it has led to an increase in longer-term custom.
On the day the initiative enjoyed the support of prominent public figures and politicians like President Obama, who visited local shops on Small Business Saturday 2012. US celebrities, such as tennis player Serena Williams, Hollywood actress Jessica Alba and NBA basketball star Paul Pierce, tweeted about it.
So, following my call earlier this year for the establishment of a UK Small Business Saturday, we have brought together a grass-roots movement of organisations including the Federation of Small Businesses and Association of Convenience Stores, which represent hundreds of thousands of small businesses, to make this a reality here. Local council administrations in London, Manchester and Birmingham are all on board to do their bit. I was recently in Northern Ireland where there is strong and growing support for the idea. We want to see every local authority get behind the day. Today, I formally asked my opposite number Business Secretary Vince Cable to give the Government’s backing to the concept.
American Express originally came up with the concept in the US and has the rights to the name. They have agreed to support the movement here, for no charge or financial gain. Other backers are coming on board too, like Ingenious Britain. And senior officials from President Obama’s administration who worked on the US initiative have provided invaluable advice, including on how to build the bottom up, grassroots approach that has made it such a success across the pond.
On its own, a UK Small Business Saturday will not transform the fortunes of our small businesses but, as the US experience demonstrates, it gives us all an special opportunity to do our bit to ensure those who take risks, set up shop and provide jobs in our local communities get more of the recognition they so deserve, by making a point of spending our money in their businesses on the big day. So put the date in your diary – the inaugural UK Small Business Saturday will be taking place on one of the business shopping days in the calendar – 7 December 2013. It’s time to back our small businesses.