Small is beautiful on the British high street

 

In the US, they have the American dream: a vision of the power of enterprise to improve fortunes, a reverence for the little guy. But small businesses have always been central to our national story too.

Many of us will know the name of the man or woman at our local newsagent, dry cleaner or grocer. Then there are those we rely on to fix things when they go wrong: the plumber, the locksmith, the handyman or woman. And we worry about the transformation of the local high street into "mono street": the disappearance of small, independent shops which, as well as adding character and colour to our thoroughfares, are part of the glue that binds communities.

Yet too often the tireless work of small business owners doesn't get the attention it deserves. That's why I was determined to see a UK version of Small Business Saturday. Exactly a year ago, I was puzzled when I noticed US celebrities showing up on the screen of my smartphone, tweeting their support for small businesses. Small Business Saturday has existed in the US for some years and has gone from strength to strength, turning the first Saturday after Thanksgiving – one of the busiest shopping days of the year – into a celebration of small business. Consumers are encouraged to shop small and large corporates to place orders with suppliers.

Last year the President shopped on the day at One More Page, a local bookshop not far from the White House. When I visited the shop and met its owner Eileen McGervey, she told me what a difference Small Business Saturday had made, both in bringing customers through the door and in shining a spotlight on small firms.

Since then, a broad coalition has come together to make the UK's first Small Business Saturday a reality, including all the main business organisations as well as town councils and local authorities across the country. It's fantastic that even the Prime Minister has lent his support. But most importantly, this is a grass-roots, bottom-up campaign.

Across the country, a vast array of different events are taking place locally: in York a pop up shopping mall will be springing into existence for the day where traders will be selling their wares. The Small Business Saturday bus, which I joined in Nottingham last week, has been touring the nation meeting small business owners and running workshops.

So next weekend, let's raise three cheers to the entrepreneurs who turn their ideas into reality, providing us with the personal service we can't get elsewhere, creating jobs in the process. If you're buying a Christmas gift, why not try a small, independent shop or order from them online? You might discover a gem.

Small Business Saturday is set to be the biggest celebration of small firms which Britain has ever seen. On Saturday, together we can make a real difference to help give life to the British dream.

Chuka Umunna is shadow Business Secretary and Labour MP for Streatham, London (which claims to have the longest continuous high street in Europe)

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