It was the French leader Napoleon Bonaparte who once quipped that England was “a nation of shopkeepers”, apparently seeking to imply that we were a country without ambition and therefore not prepared for war with his French military. He of course was proven wrong about that, and completely misjudged the fact that our country is powerful because of our shopkeepers.
The enterprising, hardworking shopkeepers in our town have helped fuel our local economy for hundreds of years. But as we know, the emergence of the internet and large multinational businesses have gradually chipped away at their sales. This was true long before the pandemic took hold, but of course the required recent closure of our high streets has resulted in an unprecedented decline in sales.
I have been inundated for the past few months with literally thousands of letters and emails from individuals and small businesses in great need, so too have the fantastic team at InvestSK who have been providing specialist business support. Locally, we have paid out over £26.6 million in Government grants to 2,199 small businesses, and £17 million of business rate relief has been awarded to 686 eligible local businesses. Many others have benefited from Bounce Back Loans and the Job Retention Scheme enabling them to keep staff employed.
However, whatever the emergency support received, no such measures can truly match being open for business. It is vital therefore, that as we continue to ‘flatten the curve’ and because we are now ‘past the peak’, we must now look at how we can get our high street shops back up and running to avoid even more damage to our economy.
From Monday, subject to scientific advice and being made COVID-secure, all outdoor market stalls can reopen and from 15 June, all non-essential shops will be able to reopen. They have been given time to prepare to be able to implement social distancing measures and our local council will receive £126,000 from the national £50m Re-opening the High Streets Safely Fund to help our shops put measures in place.
As they do re-open, it is more vital than ever before that we show our support, for it is our local shopkeepers that will help us to restore our local economy and normal life once again.
I hope that one of the things to come out of this pandemic is a renewed appreciation for our local community shops. An appreciation that they bring more to our daily lives than just what sits on their shelves. We are a nation of shopkeepers, and I for one am very proud of that.