Small Business Saturday—what a fantastic way of helping our amazing business owners, our shopkeepers, hotel owners, leisure facility operators, cafes, our pubs, those in the service industry, our farmers, our cab drivers; in fact, all those who get up early in the morning, work hard all day to provide for themselves and their families—the small business owners who we expect to provide for us all year round, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year, in fair weather or foul, good health or bad, and even when they feel that everything is actually competing against them, and that Government policy is working against them: business rates, rents, overheads, VAT returns. Such initiatives can have a real boost to town centres across Wales, such as Conwy in my constituency, where 92.5 per cent of shops are independent. Here in Wales, though, we still have the worst high-street vacancy rate in the UK, with footfall down by 1.4 per cent since last year. So, there is room for improvement.
We recognise the benefit to town centres and our high streets that free parking can have. We welcome the £3 million of funding has been awarded for a pilot scheme designed to end town centre parking charges announced in last month’s budget. Neath Port Talbot and Swansea councils will be offering free parking over the festive period to attract shoppers and benefit local businesses and town centres. But, this should be promoted all year round, not just in the lead-up to Christmas or for Small Business Saturday. Such initiatives can help to combat the loss of business to out-of-town retail parks. Blaenau Gwent and Torfaen offer free parking all year round, as they prioritise the regeneration of their town centres. Yet Cardiff council, which almost doubled the maximum parking charges to £10 last year, despite much opposition, saw a profit of £3.5 million. This is not the way councils should be gaining revenue. We must look at an improved business rates system and better relief.
Thank you very much for that. Just to point out that the whole purpose of raising the money from parking charges is to give councils the money to introduce safer roads for cyclists and pedestrians. That’s an important source of revenue, otherwise we won’t be able to make advances.
Thank you for that, but how many businesses are under the cosh and do we lose as a result of these high car parking charges?
We are calling for improved rate relief for businesses valued up to £12,000, and tapered for those up to £15,000. In response to the draft revaluation, the Federation of Small Businesses has called for more regular revaluations to ensure that bills are more reflective of economic circumstances and rents, and for an agreed position on the local retention of business rates as soon as possible. Local retention would ensure local authority support, showing support for businesses, and could be reinvested in promoting and regenerating our high streets.
Finally, it is essential that we recognise the benefit of small shops to the Welsh economy and our communities. There are 3,096 convenience stores in Wales, providing almost 25,000 jobs in Wales. Seventy-four per cent are owned and operated by small business owners. These offer valuable community services—local notice boards, cash machines, mobile phone top-up, parcel collection and click and collect services. Seventy-nine per cent of independent retailers in Wales engaged in some form of community work in the past year—collecting money for charity, providing support to community events and activities, sponsoring a local sports team or hosting local community or business association meetings and projects
Deputy Llywydd, we must acknowledge and value our high streets to ensure that our town centres remain prosperous and vibrant after Small Business Saturday, after Christmas, all year round. Small Business Saturday, 3 December—let’s tweet it, let’s Facebook it, and let’s celebrate it. [Assembly Members: ‘Hear, hear.’]