Market towns

This morning I will be convening a roundtable discussion with the Government's rural advocate and Chairman of the Commission for Rural Communities Stuart Burgess on the impact of the recession on market towns.

I'm hosting the meeting in Arundel together with the town's Chamber of Commerce and I'm delighted that around 25 local businesses will be there to give us their view of the local economy from the frontline.

Market towns are extremely important to our economy - there are 1,600 market towns and larger villages across rural England and nearly 11 million people live there - more than 20 per cent of the population.

But it's obviously a very difficult time for them.  As I travel around the country in my role as Shadow Environment Secretary I am made aware of the pressure and the difficult conditions small businesses are facing.  And market towns have seen much higher rises in unemployment than the national average.

There is no doubt that trading conditions have been tough for many local businesses but the signs are not all bad and Arundel's chamber of commerce say that the town is well-placed to ride out the downturn.

Its Chairman Ian Fenwick says this is largely down to the fact that Arundel is a great place to shop and I couldn't agree more.  And local traders are working hard to advertise more widely, attract customers to Arundel from further afield and extend their opening hours with late-night Fridays.

Needless to say, we all hope that the economy will begin to recover soon, and there have been some signs of it, but SEEDA remain concerned about the little sustainable growth emerging in the South East.

After a decade of mismanagement Britain is poorly placed to come out of recession and we will not build lasting prosperity on a mountain of debt.  We need to rebalance our economy so that it is built not on debt but on savings and investment.

We cannot as a nation go on living beyond our means and at long last the Prime Minister has admitted that there will have to be spending cuts.  Tough decisions lie ahead.  But we must not forget that it is successful small and medium sized businesses that will generate the jobs and wealth to allow our economy to grow again and fill the Government's empty coffers.

Michelle Taylor