Travel firm helps high street go places with independent outlook

Businesses have faced tough challenges over the last few years, with a squeeze on consumer spending creating a highly competitive marketplace for all firms from small independents to corporate chains.

However, the choices people make about where the money they do spend goes can have a big impact on their local economy.

Just as supporting fair trade products and reducing one’s carbon footprint form a part of many people’s spending habits, shopping locally can also become second nature.

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Businesses that are independently owned, create local employment and use local suppliers all play a key role in driving the local economy.

When people shop at a local, independently-owned business as much as 70p in every pound spent stays in the local economy. Independent businesses tend to be owned by people who live locally, and so most of the profit gets spent or saved in the area.

But firms of all types including independents and big chains create local jobs, meaning there is more money circulating in the local economy and fewer people needing support.

Spear Travels, a Yorkshire-based travel agency, has 40 staff and 20 home-based travel consultants. The firm aims to add another 10 jobs in Yorkshire over the next year.

Managing director Peter Cookson said: “Historically, the company was based in Essex but, when we bought the business in 2007, we decided to expand in Yorkshire, where we have been based for 30 years.

“Since then, we have added four more North Yorkshire branches, with a fifth to be announced shortly.”

Some of the staff employed by Spear Travels had been previously made redundant from other companies which were looking to cut costs in a difficult trading environment. Mr Cookson said: “From our point of view, that’s a bonus as we can cherry pick some excellent staff.”

Spear Travels is among a group of traders to have recently launched the ‘Love Boroughbridge’ co-operative whose mission is to promote the town as a shopping destination. As well as Boroughbridge, Spear Travels has branches in Helmsley, Leyburn, Northallerton and Stokesley.

Mr Cookson said: “In some towns where we have branches – Helmsley and Boroughbridge being prime examples – without independent shops there would be no businesses.”

He added: “Local people like buying from local people, pure and simple. The majority of our staff live within a short drive of the branch where they work, if not in the town itself, and are already well-known to our customers. Our staff buy local as well, so everyone benefits.”

Spear Travels is also a keen supporter of local schools, the arts and local charities. Mr Cookson said: “Although you may hear doom merchants proclaiming these are tough times for high street travel agents, our experience suggests there are still plenty of customers out there who prefer the personal touch to a remote, impersonal online booking experience.”

But it is not just independent businesses that create local employment. National chains also provide jobs for local communities.

Coffee chain Costa, owned by British hospitality company Whitbread, employs more than 700 baristas in its close to 80 Yorkshire stores. As well as creating jobs in the region, the firm also contributes to the British economy via its taxes.

In Whitbread’s 2012-13 financial year, underlying tax for the year amounted to £91.5m at a tax rate of 25.7 per cent.

A spokeswoman from Costa said the chain places “great emphasis on integrating with the local communities” within which it operates.

She said: “Our managers treat the Costa as if it were their own, taking a great deal of pride in helping their communities.”

Yorkshire-based firm It’s Nut Free, which was created in 2002 by Angela Russell, the mother of a child with a nut allergy, is also keen to see the local area thrive.

James Hewitt, director of operations at the company, which makes cakes, snack bags and breakfast cereals for people with a nut allergy, said: “Our company is situated in the market town of Northallerton due to its excellent central location making it ideal for shipments around the country – being situated so close to the A1 is very helpful.

“We also find Yorkshire a brilliant place to produce our flapjacks, cereals, snack bags and chocolates as these are all firm favourites in the local area.”

The business has a fairly small production team and currently employs eight people, but three of these joined the team this year.

Mr Hewitt said: “We provide comprehensive training programmes and courses for our staff and are always looking for new opportunities for help them develop and progress in their careers.

“We provide a close-knit working environment and are proud to support our employees, both professionally and personally.

“The majority of us have all grown up in and around Yorkshire and are keen to see the local area thrive.”