Click HERE to read my column in the latest edition of the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.
Each time a favourite independent shop or café 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 years gone by. 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 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 given to those in the £12-£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 but 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 customer. Each can ask their customers what they want and then deliver it with great service. It is that sets them apart from a chain.
The key is to maintain the right mix of shops to attract customers, whilst offering experiences and convenience that cannot be replicated online. This week I had the pleasure of visiting two brand new eateries in Chippenham town centre when I opened Athena Meze Bar Restaurant close to my New Road office and popped into Patisserie Valerie which has opened in Borough Parade. There are new businesses coming all the time and soon the new Atlas 24/7 Gym and an Italian restaurant will also be opening their doors, adding more variety to the town’s evening economy.
Corsham too should not be underestimated. The uniqueness of the town sets it apart with some stunning shops, not least the Corsham Bookshop which was crowned Corsham’s best independent retailer in 2014. There is huge investment coming to Corsham from the MoD and when we finally secure the reopening of Corsham Station the home of Poldark will be well placed to attract even more independent retailers.
I have several constituency surgeries coming up in both Chippenham and Corsham 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.