View from Westminster
The Harrogate Advertiser Business Awards take place at the end of this month. Last year saw local businesses recognised; many I have visited to see what they do first hand – like Change Mobility and Harrogate International Festivals. I was particularly pleased to see a long-time friend and Harrogate business stalwart win the Lifetime Achievement award – Simon Theakston of Theakstons brewing fame.
It is important that we recognise and celebrate the success of local businesses small and large. These are the businesses that create many jobs in our local economy, they bring opportunities and have a significant impact on spending in the local economy.
Supporting businesses and securing those jobs and our local economy is, I believe, one of my key roles as your Member of Parliament. Every month sees visits to local businesses or other action to support businesses.
Our area’s hospitality industry is linked closely with the success of the Harrogate Convention Centre – formerly the Harrogate International Centre. It brings in over £60m of spending to the local economy. As a former board member, I was particularly pleased to launch the new ‘ambassador’ programme for the Convention Centre.
Many conference and exhibition venues have ambassador programmes. Ambassadors are people who have influence and who are champions for our area. For instance, were the Convention Centre trying to persuade a medical conference to move its business to Harrogate an ambassador with a clinical background might be a good choice to be part of the negotiation team.
So far, the Convention Centre has recruited 13 champions in a variety of fields. These people are all vital ingredients of the mix that brings business tourism to Harrogate and fills local shops, hotels, restaurants and guest houses.
There are many other ways in which we can all support local businesses. The most obvious way is to use those businesses – the shops, cafes and restaurants in our towns and villages.
But to ensure that happens local councils and government need to pursue policies that make it easy for people to do so, including getting to those shops. I know no-one likes to pay extra taxes or new or increased charges. This is particularly true of parking charges. But I am often reminded by colleagues at North Yorkshire County Council that over a million pounds of that income goes straight back in to funding free bus travel for pensioners. Bus usage has grown meaning more people are getting in to our town centres to shop and support local businesses.
Initiatives like the Nidderdale Greenway provide a boost to rural businesses. Making it easier for people to cycle and walk to Ripley has seen an increase in trade to many of the businesses in the village. The Greenway was a large financial commitment for the Borough and County Councils but has provided tens of thousands with enjoyment and that boost to business.
There are many other ways government and local councils help local businesses: three months business rates exemption when taking an empty property, axing national insurance contributions for some small businesses, lowering corporation tax from 29 per cent to 19 per cent, 600,000 small businesses now pay no business rates at all. Yorkshire businesses have seized the opportunity these changes offer and that is why our region has seen the fastest fall in unemployment in Europe since 2010.
We still need to do more to encourage people into our town centres and local shops.
This work – supporting business, keeping our town centres vibrant and creating the conditions for business growth and more jobs – is important. And it is work in which we can all take part by buying local. As with much of what is achieved locally, we achieve it as a team.