Annandale North councillor Adam Wilson, who is standing to be a Scottish delegate to the National Policy Forum, writes about the importance of well-supported small businesses to rural Scotland.
Across Scotland, small businesses make a massive contribution to our economy. Scottish Labour should be reaching out and listen to members across Scotland, and developing policy that works effectively to build our economy from Aberdeen to Dumfriesshire, Inverness to the Islands.
According to the latest statistics there are over 350,000 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Scotland today supporting over 1.2 million jobs. In the more rural parts of Scotland the benefits that SMEs provide are vitally important. They employ local people, bring money into the local economy and are key to the sustainability of rural communities in the future.
That’s why I’m delighted that Scottish Labour’s Economy Spokesperson, Jackie Baillie MSP, has launched a new Small Business Strategy that will make a real difference. The Strategy is the start of what could be real change for our small businesses by providing new opportunities and ensuring our SME voices are heard right at the heart of government by creating a Minister for Small Business.
Having family members who own and run their own small businesses has given me an insight into the daily challenges they face. Smaller businesses often struggle to obtain public sector contracts and as competition increases larger firms have a greater ability to submit cheaper tenders for the work that is available.
Walking down High Streets that are outside of the central belt it is small businesses that occupy the vast majority of buildings. As many High Streets are deserted by the big multinationals, it is the local businesses that are thriving and keeping communities going. Walking down Lockerbie High Street, in my ward, there are only four national companies – Santander, Greggs, Home Bargains and the Post Office, although it is now a part of a local newsagents. There is a real sense of community as businesses compliment and support each other and support the local schools, charities and community groups.
But up and down the country, SMEs are struggling to grow. In rural Scotland the growth in jobs is coming from small businesses but without the funding for a bigger warehouse, to modernise and keep up to date with the latest technology or to purchase that larger vehicle. This lack of access to funding means the growth of small businesses is limited. For rural Scotland, in particular, this is a lost opportunity for economic growth as national and international companies are keen to get close to the best transport links and infrastructure – which often means our rural economies lose out further.
With plans to improve access to finance, and make taxes and procurement fairer, Scottish Labour would be taking a big step towards tackling inequality, creating jobs and helping rejuvenate communities across Scotland.
It is crucially important for the future of the country, and the electoral fortunes of the Labour Party that we do not simply focus our attentions on the economic and social needs of those in the central belt. Whilst there is undoubtedly a higher density of deprivation in some of our urban areas, where economic and social investment is sorely needed, our rural communities also have great needs.
I’m standing for the National Policy Forum along with Cate Vallis, Suzan King and Moh Fern Hirani to become the Scottish delegates. We pledge to stand up for our communities across Scotland, supporting small businesses and ensure that policies are brought forward that help to strengthen and grow the thousands of small businesses in Scotland today. Not only will this help secure the jobs of over a million workers, but it will also ensure the next Labour manifesto works for the whole of Scotland, not just the central belt.