Chuka Umunna: The jobs, services and innovation of small businesses puts them at the heart of Labour values


Chuka Umunna Small Business Saturda

Small Business Saturday, now in its fourth year, remains one of the things I am most proud of from my time leading Labour’s shadow business team. I first learned about Small Business Saturday in 2012 whilst scrolling through Twitter on a bus in my constituency. I noticed Serena Williams, Jessica Alba, and other public figures in the US, tweeting about the day and encouraging their followers to go out and support a local small business. The concept was a fantastic success in the US and I was determined to bring it to the UK and to Streatham in particular.

Toby Perkins, then the shadow small business minister, and I brought on board five of the leading small business groups in the UK – the Federation of Small Businesses, the Association of Convenience Stores, the Forum of Private Business, the British Chambers of Commerce and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents – which together represent 370,000 small businesses. From there, with the support of American Express, Small Business Saturday in the UK was founded.

Four years later and Small Business Saturday UK is going from strength to strength. British consumers spent £623m in small firms across Britain as part of Small Business Saturday 2015 – a 24 per cent increase compared to 2014. In total the event reached 25 million people and an estimated 75 per cent of local authorities actively supported the campaign. In terms of growing support and trade for small independent retailers, 48 per cent of people who shopped at a small business on the day said they spent more than they would usually. This year Small Business Saturday can go even further.

To help promote this years’ Small Business Saturday I went back to the shop floor in a number of small businesses in Streatham to find out more about what they do and learn about their experiences as small businesses. I visited Streatham Brewing Company in Streatham Vale to taste one of their latest beers, met the team to talk about the challenges for a new small business in their industry, and had a tour of their microbrewery. From there I visited Balfe’s Bikes in Streatham Hill to learn some bike maintenance skills and see how the business is going from strength to strength. I also visited an excellent new coffee shop on Streatham High Road, Batch & Co.

And why do all this? Of course, we are rightly proud of our excellent local entrepreneurs and their businesses which provide employment to 15.7 million people – two thirds of private sector jobs. But also imagine your high street or town centre without its independent small businesses – it would be just like any other around the country. Our small businesses do much more than provide jobs and services – they are important local institutions where people meet, and where relationships and bonds of trust are built between neighbours. They are part of the unique character and identity of every town and village. In this sense they go to the heart of Labours communitarian values – places for friends to socialise, places for our children to play, and places for families to celebrate or commiserate.

Our small firms and entrepreneurs turn their ideas and dreams into reality, offering us as consumers’ greater choice and new products or services which may not have previously existed, often taking on established players in the market to drive competition and improvement for us as customers. These innovators challenge the status quo and the establishment – another important part of the Labour tradition.

Small businesses are the beating heart of our communities. It is so important to support them, because without our support they cannot survive. So let’s bang the drum for our small businesses this Saturday December 3. Let’s support those who help give every community its unique identity, celebrate those who challenge the status quo, and take the time to visit some of the fantastic businesses we may not have got a chance to visit before!

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