Buy local this Small Business Saturday and let’s shame Ministers into action – Rachel Reeves

THERE has never been a more important time to support local businesses fighting for survival and still reeling from the impact of Covid-19.

Small Business Saturday takes place today.

The current restrictions mean many will have to keep their doors shut for this weekend’s Small Business Saturday – an event that generated £800m across the UK last year.

Despite the enforced closures in Leeds and elsewhere, it is still possible to buy local and help small businesses.

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Many have developed new ways of reaching customers – either online or via telephone orders and deliveries. So, it’s really worth trying to see if you can support them through these tough times.

Woodrup Cycles is the type of shop, says Rachel Reeves, that deserves support on Small Business Saturday.

By shopping local we can all play our part in helping small businesses, and those who work for them, emerge from this pandemic.

In my Leeds West constituency, we have some amazing small ventures like Cake Craft in Armley, Always Flowers in Bramley, The Beulah in Farnley and Woodrup Cycles in Burley.

But the Government must also play its part. It needs to do far more to help all those suffering due to the pandemic, especially in sectors like hospitality and retail which saw a total of 25,000 jobs put at risk with the planned closure of Debenhams stores in Leeds and across the country, and the collapse of Topshop owner Arcadia.

Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are keeping business close to home – but in a very different and damaging way to those shoppers backing small businesses.

Boris Johnson's record on business is being called into question by Labour.

I have been appalled at how the Conservatives have handed out multi-million pound contracts to their wealthy friends and donors who are profiting from this pandemic, while our public services continue to be starved of cash.

In one case, a former Conservative councillor, whose firm racked up a loss of almost £500,000 last year, landed Government contracts totalling £276m for personal protective equipment.

The process did not even require a competitive tender. Now, we learn from media reports the same Tory councillor has bought a country estate, a holiday home and house for his parents.

Then, there was the businessman who won a contract to supply millions of vials for Covid-19 tests after an exchange on WhatsApp with Health Secretary Matt Hancock. The fact he had no previous experience producing medical supplies was clearly not a problem.

The Government even created a special “VIP” channel for contacts to gain special access to contracts. All this came on top of the billions wasted because they had failed to prepare stockpiles for a pandemic like Covid-19. More stories of Conservative cronyism are emerging all the time.

In my Shadow Cabinet role, I will continue to hold the Government to account over its chumocracy when it comes to Covid contracts and its refusal to acknowledge the serious shortcomings of outsourcing firms like Serco which has botched the delivery of the national contact tracing programme.

The Government’s failure to give adequate support to businesses or our communities could not come at a worse time. As well as coping with the pandemic, there are just a few days before the end of the post-Brexit transition period. Yet, we still have no clarity about the government’s preparations for our borders.

With the Road Haulage Association predicting something “between shocking and a catastrophe”, there is a risk of lorries getting stuck in miles-long traffic jams and of serious disruption.

I have repeatedly asked my opposite number, Cabinet Minister Michael Gove, how many customs officials have been recruited out of the 50,000 he said were needed. His failure to come clean has left British business facing a huge headache.

The uncertainty of the end of the transition period coupled with the impact of Covid -19 comes at a critical time for businesses planning for what should be their busiest trading period.

However, Christmas will also be an immensely challenging time this year for many who suffer from an epidemic of a different kind – loneliness.

In memory of my friend Jo Cox, I have worked with the Jo Cox Foundation, set up after her murder in 2016, to continue Jo’s brilliant work on social isolation. According to a Royal Voluntary Service poll, one in five people fear they will not see anyone this Christmas and 16 per cent are “dreading” the holiday.

As part of this month’s Great Winter Get Together organised by the Foundation, everyone is being encouraged to get in touch with friends and neighbours who might need support.

It is a fantastic idea and we should do all we can to help avoid people feeling lonely – not just at Christmas, but all year round. Groups like Armley Helping Hands are delivering food parcels and prescriptions to vulnerable people, while Bramley Elderly Action is staging virtual quizzes and a Christmas variety show.

By supporting each other, particularly the lonely and the vulnerable, we can look forward to a better 2021. I hope you all have a peaceful and safe Christmas.

Rachel Reeves is a senior Shadow Cabinet Minister and Labour MP for Leeds West.

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