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Meeting of the Parliament

Meeting date: Thursday, December 1, 2022


Small Business Saturday 2022

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

I ask people who are leaving the public gallery to do so as quickly as possible, please.

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-06414, in the name of Michelle Thomson, on small business Saturday 2022. The debate will be concluded without any question being put. I invite members to press their request-to-speak buttons now or as soon as possible.

I invite Michelle Thomson to open the debate, for around seven minutes.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises what it sees as the importance of the Small Business Saturday initiative that is taking place across Scotland and other parts of the UK, on 3 December 2022; understands that Small Business Saturday aims to promote the work of small businesses, highlight their positive impact on their communities throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and cost of living crisis, and encourage people to shop local and recognise the value of small businesses within their communities across Scotland; notes that Small Business Saturday involves support for a range of SMEs, including self-run companies, family businesses, local community stores, small manufacturers, wholesalers, business services and online stores; further notes figures from the Scottish Parliament SPICe briefing, Scotland’s Business Base: Facts and Figures, showing that, in 2020, sole proprietors, owner-manager or employee director companies, mainly in the arts or education fields, accounted for 70% of the 364,310 private sector enterprises in Scotland and contributed 14% of employment in Scotland, and small businesses employing up to 49 employees accounted for 28% of all private sector enterprises and 29% of total employment in Scotland; considers that these figures show that the majority of enterprises in Scotland are small businesses; understands that the Small Business Saturday initiative is a grassroots campaign, which is in its 10th year and is sponsored in its efforts by American Express; congratulates the initiative on the work that it has done to support and recognise small businesses thus far, looks forward to the initiative's continued success in the future during what it sees as these uncertain and challenging times, and appreciates the work done across Scotland, including in the Falkirk East constituency, to support local small businesses.


Michelle Thomson (Falkirk East) (SNP)

I am honoured to open the debate, which celebrates small business Saturday.

I encourage everyone to support their local small businesses, which are the heartbeat of our local communities. The small business Saturday initiative is a grass-roots campaign that is in its 10th year and is sponsored in its efforts by American Express. I am sure that most MSPs will meet local small business owners and employees on Saturday, as I will. We should tell them that we will increase our efforts to give them a voice and to support their endeavours in the coming year.

I will come to acknowledge the importance of small businesses in economic and employment terms later, but I start by acknowledging their social impact. Indeed, before the term was invented, many small businesses had been contributing hugely to the wellbeing of society in general and local communities in particular, whether through supporting local charities and providing general advice to customers, or just through being the friendly presence that is willing to listen to people in need. The human face of small business provides incalculable support in local communities.

As a member of the Economy and Fair Work Committee, I was pleased to see the launch this week of our committee report—“Inquiry into Retail and Town Centres in Scotland”. To put it bluntly, most town centres in Scotland would quickly die without the active presence of local small businesses. However, the latter are placed at a huge economic disadvantage far too often, compared with large businesses.

To emphasise another point that is often missed, I note that although some large global businesses that have a Scottish presence can move their money around and take advantage of tax havens, local small businesses typically pay their taxes. That means that the proportion of income tax that is paid in taxes is often much greater for small and medium-sized enterprises than it is for many global businesses, which places the former at an added trading disadvantage. Many members who are taking part in the debate will know of small businesses that have struggled in recent years as the pandemic affected them, and whose owners have been taking out of their businesses significantly less than the minimum wage—yet, they continue.

With regard to the wider economy, some small businesses are part of a much larger critical supply chain. We often forget the breadth of small business services. Small businesses span a huge variety of activities—for example, operating a taxi, providing private nursery and childcare services, being the local sparky or plumber, working their croft, providing specialist research services, being the local lawyer or accountant, and often making better and cheaper coffee than the big chains that do not pay their taxes. The list goes on.

Although small businesses often serve larger businesses, too often that is not reciprocated. Many small businesses face late payments from larger businesses and owners sometimes find it difficult to access affordable loans from banks to invest in their business. Too often, the relatively small sums that they need to access are not on the radar of lending houses. Despite that situation, SMEs are critical to the economy.

A Scottish Parliament information centre briefing called “Scotland’s Business Base—Facts and Figures” has indicated that sole proprietors, owner-manager and employee-director companies

“accounted for 70 per cent of”

the 364,310

“private sector enterprises in Scotland”

in 2020. They employ thousands of people in every constituency in the land, and they are often long serving in local communities: in some cases, they are family-run businesses that span generations.

Small businesses have been critical, too, in helping communities to cope with the many privations that the Covid-19 pandemic created. Simple things, such as delivering local groceries to old-age pensioners while checking that they are alive and well, have more than an economic impact.

We all face the cost of living crisis; that is no less true for small businesses than it is for individuals. However, some people seem to imagine that businesses have it easy in comparison with individuals, but that is not true. Inflation is a common and deadly enemy. We have a cost of living crisis and a cost of doing business crisis, both of which are effected by the same enemy.

Some specialist small businesses are trying to support our economy by trading internationally, but they are finding that things have been made immeasurably more difficult because of Brexit and the barriers that have been erected to trading in Europe. The international reach of many small businesses has been critical in keeping open our window to the world. We must ensure that our trading policies reflect the realities that small businesses face. They do not have the luxury of saying, “Brexit is behind us”, because it is not, for them. They are living through the catastrophe that is Brexit to this day, and will have to do so into the future.

As parliamentarians, we must always do more to support our SNPs—I mean, SMEs—and recognise their worth in our constituencies. That was a Freudian slip! We must listen more to their problems and act to support them in difficult times.

I am very much looking forward to hearing other members’ speeches, and I thank all the members who signed my motion. As I close, Deputy Presiding Officer, let me do so by sending out our heartfelt thanks to the thousands of small businesses in my constituency, Falkirk East, and across Scotland that are so critical to the economic and social life of our local communities.


Jamie Halcro Johnston (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate on this weekend’s small business Saturday. I echo Michelle Thomson’s thanks to all small businesses across the country, and I thank her for bringing this important debate to the chamber.

I applaud the work of the small business Saturday campaign and its efforts to encourage us to shop locally and support our small businesses. This Saturday’s event comes at an important time of the year for Scottish retail, as it falls between the now embedded black Friday and cyber Monday sales. The annual event, which is in its 10th year, gives small businesses a chance to boost their revenue during the holiday shopping season and gives us all an opportunity to support our local communities.

Small businesses are vital parts of Scotland’s cities, towns and villages. From cafes to chemists to florists to fishmongers, they are the backbone of the Scottish economy, so it is right that we do everything that we can to support their success.

That is particularly true in my region, the Highlands and Islands, where smaller businesses predominate. In remote and rural areas, it can be a struggle for enterprises to thrive. The high cost of fuel and limited transport options are barriers for small enterprises and their customers. In island communities, some small businesses are hit both ways; supplier costs are increasing at the same time as delivery costs to get finished products back to the mainland and beyond are going up. Many small businesses are struggling with recruitment, which is particularly, but not exclusively, true in the hospitality and tourism sectors.

Events such as small business Saturday, as well as other initiatives, encourage small businesses to embrace digital solutions in order to expand their customer base. At a time when traditional retail can be a challenging environment, it is good that there is help and support to diversify.

Although small business Saturday can be seen as simply a campaign to get people to go down to their local high street, we must recognise that not all small businesses are on the street corner. Across our regions, new businesses are starting up in garages and spare rooms and on kitchen tables, often harnessing the power of an online presence. Many shops are now finding an online angle to complement their physical presence.

We all know local businesses that enhance our sense of place. This weekend, at home in Orkney, I am looking forward to visiting the Eviedale Bakehouse & Bistro, which is a fantastic example of a small business that spans hospitality and tourism and provides a vital local service for a small community that is many miles away from the island’s main settlements.

It is not just the service that small businesses provide to the public that is important. I was recently in the family-run Cafe Gallo in Stockbridge—it is run by Dellita and her sons Oscar and Jo. As well as keeping other businesses refreshed, it supports local businesses in the community by sourcing many of its products locally. When I pop in, I often notice people from other businesses coming in, not only to drop off supplies from their businesses but to use the cafe’s services.

Especially in rural communities, businesses are often not only about building a livelihood; they are also about people. The closure of a small business, especially on an island, can have a knock-on effect across the community. We must not forget that many small businesses are still suffering from the knock-on effects of the Covid crisis, and they now face the prospect of an economic downturn amid the cost of living crisis.

Recovery can feel distant, and increases in the cost of living will have a broad impact. Understandably, people will search for lower prices, but we should always remember the additional cost that is faced in delivering services locally and the important local role that businesses play. In the midst of a pandemic, it is worth remembering the vital role that many small businesses perform in keeping communities supplied and services running.

I have pointed to a number of challenges, many of which were considered in the report of the Economy and Fair Work Committee, which I am a member of, that Michelle Thomson mentioned. I certainly commend that body of work to the chamber. However, we should also consider the positives that small businesses create, the entrepreneurship opportunities that they provide and their ability to perform a social role by contributing to our community. We must continue to support people who are setting out and starting up a business.

This Saturday is small business Saturday, but small business Saturday is not just about this Saturday; it is about every day of the week, and it is about reminding us that our local businesses depend on us just as much as we depend on them.

Will the member take an intervention?

I am afraid that I have finished.

Thank you, Mr Halcro Johnston. I confirm that I am available for Eviedale pizza on Saturday, if the offer comes in.


Paul McLennan (East Lothian) (SNP)

I thank Michelle Thomson for lodging her motion. As she said, small business Saturday is in its 10th year in the UK. This weekend I will visit many small businesses in my constituency, as many other members will visit small businesses in their constituencies.

Michelle Thomson mentioned that there are about 360,000 private sector businesses operating in Scotland and that about 70 per cent of those businesses involve sole proprietors or partnerships. Therefore, we can see that there is scope to support and grow our small business sector much more.

The Economy and Fair Work Committee has just published its report, “Inquiry into Retail and Town Centres in Scotland”, which is highly relevant to this debate. The committee welcomed the Scottish Government’s policy refresh and its renewed focus on Scotland’s town centres and the retail sector. It also welcomed the Scottish Government’s retail strategy, which the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth announced a few months ago, and the establishment of the retail industry leadership group.

As we know, retail is an extremely important sector for Scotland’s economy. The independent retail sector, in particular, plays an increasingly important role. Many of Scotland’s retailers are looking to diversify and to embrace new channels for selling. I will say more about that shortly.

In its report, the committee stated:

“There is strong demand amongst Scotland’s smaller retailers for more and better support to build their online presence and be able to take advantage of platforms and expertise that already exist.”

I have seen that in my home town of Dunbar, which, with support from traders and the community council, has launched a website, That has gone down really well and has resulted in increased trade.

The Scottish Government has committed £100 million to help businesses to improve their digital skills, capacity and capability. It has also committed to supporting improved broadband capacity and mobile connectivity in towns and town centres to improve local digital platforms. That is incredibly important.

The committee also mentioned that it is vital that a broader range of opportunities is made available to upskill, strengthen and future proof the retail workforce. National and local government must do more to support that.

Business gateways are incredibly important in supporting businesses to establish and grow, especially in the first year or two, when they need a bit more support. We need to identify measures that can be taken nationally and locally to increase uptake, and to consider how Business Gateway’s offering can be expanded and improved.

Scotland’s towns are individual; there are six or seven main towns in my constituency and they all have their own distinct identities, communities, histories and futures. Every town has its story, and communities can be and are motivated by the expression of that unique story to drive forward change and improvement. We know that that works when there is a common purpose and community drive to shape the town, and there are lessons to be learned from everybody in that regard.

What is important is that every town and its community are empowered to create a vision with a focus on achieving that through a long-term town plan. I know that several towns in my constituency are looking to take advantage of that opportunity. To help with that, we must remove barriers and ensure that support, including appropriate advice and financial support, is available at all stages of development.

The town centre first principle in planning—which the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee has discussed with the minister on a number of occasions as part of its consideration of national planning framework 4—is key and will continue to be so. I think that that has been broadly welcomed across the spectrum.

With any new proposed out-of-town developments, it must be demonstrated that town centre sites have been pursued and thoroughly evaluated, and that the development will have no adverse impact on town centres and will not compete with town centre provision.

I welcome the Scottish Government’s consultation on permitted development rights and the intention to support the creation of a new general town centre use class, which gives town centres more flexibility to develop.

We need to see more transparency in the ownership of town centre property. I know that we have all had issues with land or properties that have been sitting unused in town centres for years because we cannot trace the owners. That is a particular issue. Local authorities have a range of powers to tackle derelict or dangerous buildings, as came up in discussion of NPF4. We must encourage local authorities to do more in that area.

Small businesses are the heart of our communities: we all need to do more to ensure that they thrive.


Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

I thank Michelle Thomson for bringing the debate to the chamber. It always gives me huge pleasure to speak in the debate about small business Saturday because, as most members are aware, small business, and especially small retail business, is very close to my heart. It is so close to my heart that my declaration of interests barely does it justice—for the avoidance of doubt, I am a director of a business with retail interests, although those are very residual, and, before coming into Parliament, I ran a small retail business in Edinburgh, which is why I know how important small business is.

I also represent a constituency that has, in Morningside and Bruntsfield, one of the most vibrant and successful secondary high streets in Edinburgh, if not in Scotland. I am really looking forward to making visits to Toys Galore and Cafe Gezellig this Saturday. I might nip into the Edinburgh Bookshop and of course, because this is south Edinburgh, I will have to go into Nordic Living—I am sure that members would expect no less. In case I have not name checked enough businesses, I will mention that I have, in previous years, visited Ooh! Ruby Shoes, a wonderful retailer for gifts of all types. I might even suggest that people nip into Houseproud to pick up one or two items that they require for their Christmas day cooking.

I make those name checks because I really want to emphasise how important it is that we use our local businesses, especially at this time of year. As Michelle Thomson rightly pointed out, we have all become very aware of how important such businesses are as the glue in our communities. Through lockdown, those businesses kept the wheels on the wagon, kept us all fed and allowed us to sustain ourselves. That is how important they are.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

I entirely agree with what Mr Johnson has said. I respect his experience in running his own business, as I did, albeit in a different century from him.

Thereanent, does Mr Johnson agree that one of the success stories of devolution, which we should all be proud of and which has been maintained and protected in John Swinney’s most recent emergency budget, is the small business bonus scheme? It is the most generous scheme for small businesses in the United Kingdom and takes more than 111,000 businesses out of rates altogether. That really has helped to address the financial pressures of Covid and of the recession.

I can give you back the time, Mr Johnson.

Daniel Johnson

I am grateful to the member from making that point, although he is upsetting the order of my notes. We must recognise that retail depends on Christmas trade, especially when times are so challenging. If we think that those businesses are valuable, we must use them at this time of year.

I was going to come to the member’s point. He is absolutely right that the small business bonus scheme is absolutely critical for many small businesses. We should look at that in the round. As Michelle Thomson pointed out, we are in the middle of a cost crisis. Businesses face costs on a number of fronts that undermine their viability. Although the help from the UK Government is of some use, I have spoken to local businesses that will miss out on that because their utility deals come up for renewal in the spring. They are facing seven or eightfold increases, and their utility bills are going from £10,000 to more than £100,000. No business can survive that.

I am glad that the member brought up the issue of rates. Many businesses have rates bills that now exceed their rent. If we look at how the poundage rate and rateable value are meant to work, that should never be possible.

I also note that there are issues with the small business bonus scheme. The moment that a business has more than three premises, it loses the bonus. Therefore, we need to look at rates and business costs in the round, because I think that there are many things that really jeopardise the viability of businesses.

I note the points raised about planning and technology by Paul McLennan. There have been a number of schemes to help small businesses to take up technology, but we have to acknowledge that they have not necessarily worked as well as they should have done. We need to keep thinking about what prevents small businesses from maximising the use of technology.

Small businesses are at the very heart of our communities. They are vital to bringing distinctive characteristics to many of the communities that we represent. If we value them, let us use them. This Christmas time, let us spend our money in local businesses on our local high streets.


Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I congratulate my colleague on securing this timely debate. There is no better time to focus on local shops and shopping than in the run-up to Christmas—of course, I must not omit the trades and professions. In refurbishing my Gala office, I have used as many local trades as I can. Small businesses also include local pubs and hotels. Many of those small businesses are family owned, often over the generations, so both the businesses and their owners are embedded in and committed to their communities.

There are many great small businesses across Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, from the main streets of Lauder and Earlston to the town centres of Melrose and Galashiels, the high street of Peebles, the Penicuik precinct and the villages of Broughton and Oxton with their community shops, which I am pleased to say are doing well. I have visited both villages and community support is especially important there.

In addition, I am a shopper. This jacket—I just happen to have it on, by the way; I did not mean it as a prop—was made in the Borders and bought in Peebles. For the avoidance of doubt—this is for Jamie Halcro Johnston—I am not on commission.

All those businesses are key to the communities they serve. They all depend on local patronage and they are accessible year round when rural roads may be impassable and, of course, there is limited public transport.

Covid was tough on all small businesses, but especially on retail and hospitality. Covid restrictions, with movement curtailed and folk stuck indoors ordering online from the supermarkets and the likes of Amazon, meant that shopping habits changed, and they have remained to some extent changed to this day. Those small businesses were coming back into their own, but now they have yet another double whammy, as mentioned before: the cost of living and the energy crisis.

The Scottish Government has helped with its small business bonus scheme—I reference Fergus Ewing—which means that many local businesses pay no rates whatsoever. The recent figures for this year show that in the Borders, 5,820 businesses get relief, of which 5,600 pay no business rates whatsoever. In Midlothian, the figures are 1,220 with some relief and 1,130 with 100 per cent relief, paying no rates at all. However, I accept some of the comments made by Daniel Johnson, given his expertise.

The pressure on family budgets has meant that many people are cutting back as Christmas approaches. Some are finding that the choice is between heating and eating, and the rest is simply not on the agenda. Then there is the cost of energy to businesses themselves. I have heard of local businesses—cafes, in particular—that now have sky-high energy costs and simply will not be able to stay open.

The UK has the energy business relief scheme, which automatically caps the cost per unit of non-domestic energy, so businesses need not apply because it is automatic. However, that scheme ends in March 2023. The First Minister has written to Rishi Sunak asking that something be put in its place for businesses that are still in need, and she also requested an enhanced windfall tax, which could raise £93 billion that could be applied to assist with both domestic and non-domestic energy bills. The Deputy First Minister wrote to the then—very temporary—chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng to ask for VAT, which is mostly at 20 per cent on non-domestic bills, to be reduced. Replies are awaited.

In Scotland, there are grant schemes to assist small businesses. If they have not already done so, businesses should check out the Business Energy Scotland website and see what there is there. It may not be appropriate, but they should at least check it out.

Against a background of inflationary pressures on domestic budgets and additional costs on local business, it is time for us to do our bit, no matter how little, to support our local businesses. Shopping locally keeps the pennies and pounds local. It also leads to weary feet—with parcels—having a wee rest in the local cafe or pub. They need us, but we need them. Our town and village centres need them, too. We must not take them for granted—so, I say, shop local if you can afford to.


Ariane Burgess (Highlands and Islands) (Green)

I take a moment to thank Michelle Thomson for securing this important debate.

The region that I represent—Scotland’s Highlands and Islands—is home to less than 10 per cent of the country’s population, but it accounts for 22 per cent of its social enterprises, many of which are thriving small businesses with a simple aim: to keep in the community the wealth that is generated by that community. Many of the people who will support small business Saturday this weekend may well shop at or receive the services of a social enterprise but not realise that that is how it has been set up.

I was honoured to host Social Enterprise Scotland’s awards at the Parliament earlier this month. It was a fantastic celebration of the many social enterprises across Scotland that are working to enhance the lives of individuals and families, and our communities and environment, through building community wealth. The sector contributes £2.3 billion to the economy and supports 88,000 jobs, while giving us all the opportunity to play our part in building community wealth.

Those innovative businesses not only have a specific social or environmental mission; crucially for rural communities, they reinvest their profits in the business and in the local economy. Those businesses are more likely to employ, buy and invest locally, so that the wealth that is created through their business activity continues to circulate in the local economy.

To mark small business Saturday, I welcome the opportunity to mention just three of the incredible small social enterprises in the Highlands and Islands.

New Start Highland provides a range of services, including housing support, employability training, furniture provision and mentoring, to help people get back on their feet.

In Shetland, the creative visual arts workshop Gaada is an artist-led community interest company. Its core activity involves sharing specialist art facilities and skills with Shetland’s diverse communities through its Burra isle workshop.

In Inverness, Velocity Cafe and Bicycle Workshop is a social enterprise that combines three worlds: a vegetarian cafe, a bicycle workshop and a range of projects that promote health, wellbeing and sustainability.

As we have heard from members across the parties, all small businesses—especially social enterprises—are facing real challenges at the moment. Rising energy costs, inflationary prices for essential raw materials and difficulty in recruiting staff are repeatedly highlighted to me by constituents. I was contacted by a small bakery in Fort William, for which the price of sugar is increasing by 128 per cent. Coupled with staff shortages, that has meant that the business has reached a crisis point.

Those external threats to small businesses are having a disproportionate impact in remote rural communities, where small and medium-sized enterprises account for 79.5 per cent of private sector employment. The local authority area with the biggest fall in the number of registered businesses since before the pandemic was the Highlands, despite its being among the top five local authority areas when it comes to business density, along with Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles.

That should cause concern to us all. This summer’s Highlands and Islands Enterprise business panel survey showed that fewer than half of the businesses in our region had confidence in the economic outlook for Scotland, with exports tumbling and almost all members being impacted by rising costs, especially in remote areas.

There is support out there, whether through organisations such as the enterprise agencies, Business Gateway and Social Enterprise Scotland, or through the Government’s plans, which are outlined in the Bute house agreement, to develop procurement practices to support local economies and microbusinesses. Yet the support that every small business wants most is that of customers.

I urge any constituents who are planning some festive shopping this weekend to make the most of the small businesses and social enterprises that bring vibrancy, bustle and life to their local high street.


John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

I thank Michelle Thomson for securing a debate on this really important topic.

When I was younger, it was pretty well all small shops. I used to get sent for the messages, and the butcher minced the beef as I watched, with the carcases of cows, pigs and sheep hanging all around the shop. I think that Cochrane’s was the largest shop in our area, until it was superseded by a Safeway supermarket, which seemed huge at the time, but nowadays would be seen as tiny compared with the big superstores that we have got used to. Is all of that progress? I am not sure.

Shopping is now easier and quicker, because we go round and choose our own products, instead of having to ask for things one at a time. I confess that, for much of the year, I use supermarkets a lot. It is easy and convenient, especially if we are busy, to jump into a supermarket and buy a range of goods—including alcohol, as long as we are in and out by 10 pm. Perhaps, though, that is one of the reasons why we have more problems nowadays with isolation and loneliness. Traditionally, going into a smaller shop, or a bank or a post office for that matter, has been a chance for folk to socialise and get a chat. Maybe we just have to accept that we now have a mix of very large stores and smaller stores, not to mention online shopping. Of course, as has been mentioned, online shopping can involve smaller businesses, too.

However, we do not want to lose all of our smaller physical shops, which is why it is crucial that we have a day such as small business Saturday to remind us of the importance of small shops and other small businesses. I have tended to try to visit small businesses each year—usually shops, as they are open on Saturdays.

This year, I put a post about small business Saturday on Facebook and asked constituents for suggestions, in case there were some small businesses that I was not aware of. One person suggested there were 20 hairdressers in Shettleston, not counting the rest of the constituency. I do not think that my remaining hair could handle being cut 20 times on the one day, but we also have some excellent butchers, bakers and coffee shops, and I will be aiming to visit some of them. It struck me, though, that we have very few fruiterers left in the east end of Glasgow. The one in Shettleston that I used for fruit and vegetables is now no longer there. More positively, we are seeing an increase in independent bakers, as well as Polish, African and other shops that reflect Glasgow’s much more mixed population nowadays.

Sometimes it can be hard to draw the line between what is a small business and what is not. For example, Costa and McDonald’s are huge chains but, as they often operate on a franchise model, the people running a particular branch may be a small business. I tweeted something about a local Costa, and the next time I was in, the manager came over for a chat and explained how his was really a small business. He also gave me a free cake.

Finally, I want to mention small businesses that are not shops and cafes.

Does the member realise that the point of small business Saturday is not to get free stuff but to pay for stuff?

John Mason

Yes, I heartily endorse that, although if the member wants to take me out for a coffee, I could be persuaded.

I guess that there are positives as well as negatives. For example, in my constituency, we no longer have any local newspapers, which is a disadvantage in many ways. However, we have a local magazine, Hoolit, which carries local adverts and, as a sideline, supports the use of Glasgow and Scots words.

Times change. We should not hanker for the past and we should welcome local initiatives and new businesses.

I end with a few questions. Do we think enough about how we shop? Of course, some of us are forced to buy the cheapest item, but others of us can ask ourselves questions such as: “Is this produce fair trade, so that the workers get decent pay and conditions?”; “Is this food supporting farming jobs in Scotland?”; and “Am I shopping in a way that supports local small businesses?”


The Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth (Tom Arthur)

I thank Michelle Thomson for bringing this important debate to Parliament. It is always a highlight of the parliamentary calendar to celebrate small business Saturday, because it gives us an opportunity to come together and recognise the immense contribution that small businesses make, not just to our local and regional economies but, cumulatively, to our national economy across Scotland. Small businesses have a vital role to play. Small business Saturday also affords us an opportunity to recognise the contribution made by individual businesses in our own constituencies and regions.

An issue that Michelle Thomson touched on very effectively was the social impact of small businesses. We recognise that certain of the commercial interactions and processes in our daily lives can perhaps be somewhat impersonal, but in the context of small businesses, we often establish very close relationships with the people who work at them. Whether the cafe, the pub, the butcher’s, or the picture framer’s—whatever the businesses on our local high street happen to be—we often form personal relationships with those individuals. They are not just transactional relationships but relationships with people who are fellow members of our community and, indeed, friends. That social impact is important, and it is also important in tackling a range of other issues.

For example, such social interaction is important for many people, including people who are more at risk of loneliness and isolation. Never had we seen the huge social impact that our small businesses have more than during the pandemic, which members across the chamber recognised. It is not any exaggeration to say that many of our communities would not have been able to get through the pandemic in the way that they did without the support of our small businesses. I therefore join colleagues from across the chamber in recognising not only the immense contribution that our small businesses make to our local economies but their social impacts.

Christine Grahame

Tom Arthur brings to mind a story that I have been told more than once: when someone did not call at the local shop for a few days, the shopkeeper went to find out whether they were all right, because they knew that something was very wrong if it was an elderly or infirm person. That is another example of how important small businesses are in the social system of a community.

Tom Arthur

I agree. That is an excellent example. Local pubs are also a particular example of the impact that small businesses have in providing support to people, including through their digital footprint. Christine Grahame made an incredibly important point.

Of course, we cannot have this debate and ignore the significant economic challenges facing not only small businesses but our wider economy. In many cases, we are seeing the most challenging set of economic circumstances in our lifetime. It is therefore imperative that we do all that we can to support businesses through that. I recognise the comments that were made by Fergus Ewing and Daniel Johnson with regard to the small business bonus scheme, which I know is of immense support to and is hugely valued by small businesses. Indeed, the power and impact of the small business bonus scheme are articulated very effectively by the likes of the FSB.

Fergus Ewing

I entirely agree that we must be mindful of the current challenges facing small businesses. Thereanent, although I know that it is not his portfolio, is the minister aware of the concerns that the deposit return scheme, as it is planned to be rolled out, would impact pretty severely on certain small businesses, notably small craft brewers and distillers, because of the high costs and the burden of labelling? Many of the very small businesses that we have championed over the years have said that they might have to give up—or, if they do not give up, stop trading in Scotland. If that ever came to pass—I hope that it does not—it would be very deleterious. Is that an issue that the minister might wish to discuss with Lorna Slater, who I think is the minister in charge?

Tom Arthur

I thank Mr Ewing for his intervention. I assure him that I have had those discussions with my ministerial colleague, Lorna Slater. I have also spoken about it in detail with the Scottish Retail Consortium and the Scottish Grocers Federation. I am assured that Ms Slater is having the closest engagement and consultation with stakeholders to ensure that the DRS is launched in a way that means that we can recognise and celebrate it for the positive impacts that it will have on our net-zero and waste reduction ambitions, and work towards achieving the strongest buy-in and support from industry, remembering that it will be an industry-led scheme.

I made reference to the fact that I was conscious of the challenges. Michelle Thomson also touched on some of the more long-standing challenges that businesses face, one of which is, of course, cash flow and late payment. I appreciate that it can be challenging to keep track of all the legislation going through Parliament, but I draw members’ attention to the Moveable Transactions (Scotland) Bill that is currently under consideration by the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee, with the intention that it shortly be considered by the Parliament as a whole at stage 1.

The bill, which I am leading on, is a product of the Scottish Law Commission, and it has the potential to make a powerful and transformational impact for small businesses, particularly around their being able to facilitate invoice financing, as the current legal structures in Scotland are not optimal for doing that. It will also allow for securities to be achieved over moveable corporeal and incorporeal property, which will be of much benefit to the wider Scottish economy. I look forward to further engagement with members on that legislation as it progresses through Parliament.

Members made a range of comments covering many different areas that I will not have the opportunity to cover in detail. However, I will pick up on important points that Ariane Burgess raised around social enterprises and community wealth building.

Social enterprises play a key role in our local economies. As we understand is inherent in their model, they reinvest our money back into local communities very effectively and play a key role in delivering a range of services. They are a fantastic example of community wealth building, as are more traditional small businesses. Earlier this year, I met the Federation of Small Businesses to discuss community wealth building, which I know that it is passionately interested in. Indeed, there was FSB representation on the community wealth building bill steering group that I chaired.

I will have a great deal more to say about community wealth building in the new year as we take forward our commitment to a consultation ahead of legislation later in this parliamentary session. At its heart, community wealth building is about seeing more of the wealth that is generated within our communities retained within our communities. That has many practical applications, such as making more effective use of sustainable procurement, employment practices that recruit from our localities, and seeing more business models develop that are consistent with small businesses’ practices. Those models might mean businesses that are employee-owned, co-operatives, community interest companies, or social enterprises. Cumulatively, those can help to create more sustainable and resilient local economies that will be the bedrock for continued success for all our small businesses across Scotland.

I am conscious that time is against me. I once again thank members for their contributions to this debate and wish everyone a very successful small business Saturday.

13:36 Meeting suspended.  

14:30 On resuming—