Keir Starmer has hailed the “monumental effort” made by small businesses during the coronavirus pandemic as he called on the government to “repay” them for supporting local communities through the crisis.
To mark ‘Small Business Saturday’, Labour has called on ministers to provide more financial support to local businesses to see them through a winter of tough restrictions designed to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The Prime Minister’s three-tier system of restrictions in England is likely to run until spring, with strict limits on the hospitality sector, as health officials carry out a months-long rollout of vaccinations across the UK.
Starmer said: “Small businesses across the country have made a monumental effort during this crisis. They have stepped up when it was most needed, supporting their local communities and making huge sacrifices to help tackle the spread of the virus.
“Now we must repay them. The government must ensure businesses, particularly those facing the toughest restrictions, are supported to see them through the winter.”
He added: “This Small Business Saturday and beyond, we can all do our bit to stand by small businesses, by shopping safely where we live, including online, or ordering from local restaurants.”
Small Business Saturday began in 2010 as a shopping holiday in the US, held on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but has since been adopted in the UK to encourage consumers to support independent businesses in their communities.
The Labour leader’s comments came after he raised the issue of support for the retail sector at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, urging Boris Johnson to take the problem of job losses “seriously” and provide emergency support.
“Over 200,000 retail jobs have been lost this year. That’s 200,000 individuals and their families, 20,000 stores have been closed on our high street and that’s before the latest restrictions,” Starmer said.
“Now, I suspect if we’d seen that scale of job losses in any other sector there would have been much greater action already.”
Starmer and Shadow Chancellor Annneliese Dodds hosted a webinar on Monday with hundreds of small business owners, where they committed to fighting for better government support in sectors that have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic.
On Friday, Shadow Business Secretary Ed Miliband warned that many small businesses reopening after the second national lockdown in England would not make it through to spring due to inadequate government support.
He highlighted analysis of official data showing that an estimated 390,000 small businesses were worried that they would not survive the next three months, while more than 520,000 small businesses had seen turnover fall by more than half.
Commenting on Small Business Saturday, Miliband said: “Shops, pubs, manufacturers, hotels and hairdressers, beauty salons and suppliers, breweries and bakeries, and small businesses of all kinds have been on the frontline of the economic crisis.
“This is a day to celebrate the millions of these small businesses at the heart of our communities and the workers they employ. They represent the best of our country.”
Shadow business minister Lucy Powell held a ‘Shop Local’ campaign event this week with businesses in Bolton and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson made a virtual visit to businesses in Swindon.