Monday, 22 February 2010


News that another village shop in Benson has been lost will be a huge blow to residents. Villages rely on their local businesses to keep them vibrant and when shops and pubs close villages can become little more than commuter zones.

Benson is lucky to retain a busy local community using the school, village hall and recreation facilities and the remaining local shops but every loss of a rural amenity is a challenge to communities.

In my village we have worked hard to reopen and maintain our village shop. It has been a huge effort and I am pleased to say that it is now thriving but it remains a daily effort to ensure that we continue to trade and succeed. We have recently seen our last remaining pub close its doors and we are nervously waiting to see if anyone will come forward to reopen it. Once again the village has begun to consider if a community venture might work but this would be a significantly greater effort than a shop.

In 2009 alone, 12,000 rural shops closed across the country.

The Liberal Democrats have a clear, affordable policy to help threatened rural businesses to survive and grow. Highlights include the following:

1. We would make small business rate relief automatic, not discretionary, so that small shops and businesses which pay a far higher proportion of their income in taxes would immediately benefit.

2. We would cut employment taxes, reversing the planned National insurance rise.

3. We would cut red tape, which is a huge burden on small businesses, including introducing 'sunset clauses' into all legislation so that it does not simply continue to be a burden to businesses through government inaction.

4. We would seek to improve access to credit by improving and better regulating the banking system.

5. We would introduce local enterprise funds to assist the start up and success of new businesses.

6. We would introduce regional stock exchanges to match local investors with local businesses.

7. We would require local planning authorities to develop retail development plans to guard against inappropriate supermarket expansion which could threaten local high streets.

8. We would protect and improve the business model of Post Offices, introducing a 'Postbank' to give access to a bank account to everyone, delivering more government services through this national network of local offices and making Post Offices local hubs for missed deliveries which otherwise tend to have to go back to a regional office if they cannot be delivered first time round.

Competition is a benefit to us all, as is local availability of the goods and services we all want to enjoy. I may be wrong but I am not aware of such a detailed portfolio of policy proposals from the other parties to keep Benson and other rural communities thriving and helping them to grow in the future.

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