My latest column in the Wiltshire Times.
Each time a favourite independent shop or cafe closes down, we lose a small piece of what makes our country great. We must defend against the march of the generic. It is what sets our market towns apart.
With retail sales rising, there is a risk of the lazy assumption that independent retailers have it easier than in days of old. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A key part of my plan for our area was to support our market towns and in Parliament I helped set up the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Market Towns in order to look at, and learn from, what different areas are doing to boost local trade, entertainment and support high street businesses.
Our APPG worked with the Chancellor to acknowledge the needs of small businesses by overhauling the business rates regime in the budget. From 2017, a company occupying a property with a rateable value under £12,000 will pay zero business rates with tapered relief for those in the £12k-£15k bracket – this includes most of the independent shops in Wiltshire.
It is often hard, however, for independent shops to thrive, especially with the purchasing power and marketing clout of the well-known names in retail. We do love to shop with independents but have to remember they just cannot compete on price and range.
Where small retailers can make a big difference is knowing their customers. Each can ask their customers what they want and then deliver it with great service. It is that which sets them apart from a chain.
The key is to maintain the right mix of shops to attract customers, while offering experiences and convenience that cannot be replicated online. The uniqueness of the independent shops is one of the best features of Bradford on Avon. Sadly we will soon lose one of the town’s favourite shops as Tillions closes its doors for the final time and owner Caroline Philpott retires after 30 years working at the store and many years on the town’s Chamber of Commerce. I hope that an independent shop of similar quality replaces Tillions, although they have a hard act to follow.
As Melksham grows and more jobs come to the town, I am confident that a wider range of shops will fill the town centre and I am working with the council and Local Enterprise Partnership to bring more investment to the town.
I have several constituency surgeries coming up in both Melksham and Bradford on Avon town centres, so if you have a local or national issue that you would like addressing please contact my office on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01249 704465.