With news that two popular Rutherglen cafés, the Black Poppy and the Big Coffee Cup, are set to close, it is important to reflect on the shape of our local high streets and how we help small independent operators to thrive.
Both businesses are closing for different reasons but, in each case, a larger landlord has played a significant role in their demise and alternatives to closure were either limited or non-existent. The combined annual turnover of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK is £1.9 trillion and small businesses account for 99.3% of all private sector businesses in the UK, yet too often the voices of small business are crowded out by the interests of larger players.
Having run a small business myself, I know how challenging it can be to meet the daily demands of running your company. Small business owners wear every hat in their organisation: they don’t have large HR departments to help manage their workforce needs; they don’t have teams of clever lawyers negotiating on their behalf; there is no PR machine working behind the scenes; they can‘t just throw money at problems to make them disappear.
Organisations like the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) do a good job at standing up for the interests of SMEs but it is galling that larger companies such like Amazon and Starbucks have used their corporate muscle to get away with paying low tax bills while Frasers is entering into negotiations to reduce its rental payments on high streets across the UK. But it is small businesses like the Black Poppy who would quickly find HMRC knocking at the door in the event of a missed payment and can suddenly find themselves in receipt of an ultimatum from the local council: accept a rent increase or close.
Most people like to see small independent operators on their high street, but it is crucial that we remember if we want to keep them, we have to use them. Online shopping may be convenient, but no one wants to live in a ghost town with no high street.
If we value our town centres and our local businesses, we need to take action to help them flourish. That is part of the reason I have been campaigning against bank closures and for the protection of free-to-use ATMs; we need more services to draw people into local high streets, not fewer.
There is no single solution to this problem, but any approach to tackle decline in our town centres must be built around the needs of the small businesses operating in them. That is why next week I will be meeting with the FSB to talk about what more can be done to help SMEs and I will also be writing to small businesses in Rutherglen and Hamilton West seeking their views about local challenges and opportunities.
We need to work together, so if you run a small business or have ideas about how to help, please get in touch with my office.