Small Businesses

Last week I met the Arundel Chamber of Commerce to talk about the case for an Arundel bypass. I was pleased that an offline town bypass continues to command strong local support, and I believe it would benefit local traders as well as the wider local economy and the environment.

I also heard about the town's plans for 'Arundel By Candelight' which runs from 1pm onwards on Saturday 6 December and is a highly popular shopping event before Christmas.

It's a struggle for traders in our small market town and village high streets as they face changing retail trends, with fierce competition from out-of-town superstores and increasingly popular online retailers like Amazon.

Despite these pressures, our high streets still see many successful local businesses, some of them providing 'shop windows' to online businesses, others offering quality goods which draw people in to shop in the area.

Petworth is an example of this positive trend and I am looking forward to attending the Annual General Meeting of Petworth Business Association on Thursday evening to hear how things are going.

Of course, the economic downturn added to the pressures on local high streets, so the increasingly good economic news is important. This week new figures saw the largest annual fall in unemployment since records began in the 1970s. The number of unemployed people is now below 2 million for the first time in six years.

We are very fortunate in that the unemployment rate in Arundel and South Downs is one of the lowest in the country. There were just over 400 Jobseeker's Allowance claimants in the constituency last month, less than 1 per cent of the economically active population aged 16 to 64. The number of claimants is more than 200 lower than it was a year ago.

The Government has attempted to help small businesses in many ways, for instance through cuts in corporation tax, help with business rates and the landmark Employment Allowance, which is cutting up to £2,000 off National Insurance bills, making it cheaper to employ people.

With a growing economy where spending is under control and the deficit is reduced and then eliminated, we can afford to fund high quality public services and reduce the tax burden further, increasing people's spending power.

In the end, this economic renewal is what will matter most for local businesses. It must not be put at risk. 

Christopher N Howarth