Our nation of shopkeepers

MP John Hayes at the opening of Red Lion Quarter shops in Spalding.
MP John Hayes at the opening of Red Lion Quarter shops in Spalding.

by John Hayes MP

The wonderful situation comedy Dad’s Army pictures a world very different from much of modern Britain. The fictional Warmington-on-Sea was drawn from the reality of life in a typical town at the beginning of the War. The Home Guard platoon comprised men who played central roles in their community: Mr Frazer the undertaker, Mr Jones the butcher and, their captain, Mr Mainwaring, the local bank manager.

Contrast that with the high street in many parts of Britain today. Perhaps the undertaker’s has survived, but in many places local butchers have gone and most independent grocers have been replaced by the soulless ubiquity of out-of-town supermarkets.

If the local bank hasn’t been closed, the branch manager has been stripped of authority by the headquarters in London.

So it’s unsurprising that people in those places feel little sense of belonging in identikit towns where every high street is dominated by national chain stores.

Here in South Holland we are fortunate that so many superb independent shops remain; think for example of our excellent local butchers and bakers, many of which I use.

Through the variety and richness such businesses embody our sense of identity is affirmed. Local shops, churches, clubs, pubs and voluntary groups – with deep communal roots – all play a part in making us who we are. It is their particularity, their uniqueness to our locality, that makes them precious.

That’s why it’s important that the Government champions measures that boost small firms and bolster high streets.

So, I am proud that we are introducing a two per cent cap on business rate increases, a £1,000 rates discount for retail properties for the next two years, and a new reoccupation relief which will halve the rates bills of businesses taking over empty premises for a year. This Government is backing small businesses and our high streets – the backbone of our economy and the life blood of our towns.

Napoleon once disparagingly remarked that England was ‘a nation of shopkeepers’, but as Edmund Burke – the philosophical father of conservatism – recognised, our national strength and stability is founded on the ‘little platoons’; the social institutions that bind society together. Burke’s ‘little platoons’, like the home guard platoons that once provided our last line of defence, represent the best of Britain.

Backing them means we can become a proud nation of shopkeepers once again.