UK

Broadband pledge as firms mark Small Business Saturday

David Cameron buys ten lamb cutlets from butcher Tom Cobb in A Cobb in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire
Image caption The government has pledged to help small firms cut costs

Help for local retailers, such as faster broadband, has been announced by the government as the UK marks Small Business Saturday.

Ministers pledged to spend £100m on internet connections to mark the UK's first celebration of small firms.

It aims to encourage spending in local shops, which provide almost two thirds of private sector employment.

David Cameron, shopping in Buckinghamshire, said high streets were the "lifeblood of our country".

'Unnecessary burdens'

The government has pledged to remove some of the barriers faced by small businesses, such as accessing faster and better broadband and making it easier to switch energy suppliers.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said it was committed to freeing small businesses from "unnecessary burdens" - with help to include providing more finance and improving access to advice and support.

He added: "In particular we are tackling the issue of late payment, which can threaten the survival of otherwise healthy businesses.

"We are enforcing prompt payment through the entire public sector and asking what more we can do to get credit flowing in the private sector."

Meanwhile, a bus has been touring the country promoting the idea of getting people to shop on their local high streets.

Based on a model which started in the US and spearheaded by shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna, Small Business Saturday aims to support smaller retailers as they struggle against larger chains.

David Cameron marked the day by visiting family butcher A Cobb in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire - near his official country residence Chequers - where he bought 10 lamb cutlets in advance of his mother joining him for dinner.

He said: "Small businesses are the lifeblood of our country - essential for building a resilient, sustainable economy and a central part of my long-term economic plan for Britain.

"They account for 99 in every 100 businesses and keep more than 11 million people in work - so this isn't about sentimentality, it's about the future of Britain, creating jobs and turning our economy around."

Labour leader Ed Miliband was due to visit south London on Saturday, where he was expected to pledge to help small firms by cutting cut business rates for 1.5 million small business properties, freezing energy bills and getting tough on late payers if his party were to win the next general election.

He was expected to say: "Labour is changing so that we can go into the next election as the party of small business and enterprise."

'Lifeblood'

Retail guru Mary Portas conducted a review of the high street two years ago - resulting in the creation of 12 government-funded "Portas Pilot" towns.

She told the BBC that independent shops were a vital part of the "social infrastructure" of local communities.

"It's the small things that matter," she said. "The chance of bumping into somebody you know, getting to know local shopkeepers, using local cafes, restaurants and libraries. It's important we recognise how important they are."

She also said that it was "not more expensive" to buy from local retailers.

"I've done surveys of local fruit and veg and local butchers compared to supermarkets and it's not more expensive," she said.

"If we can get local councils to look at parking and get retailers behind that too - there's a real joy in shopping in your local community."

Enterprise and skills minister Matthew Hancock said independent firms were the "lifeblood" of the British economy and responsible for "nearly half the job creation in the UK".

"That's why we are removing barriers to growth and supporting them, so that they can create jobs and compete in the global race," he added.

Dr Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said that the government needed to focus on helping small firms to expand.

"The government is right to say that Britain is a great place to start a business," he said. "Now it needs to become a great place to grow a business too."

John Cridland, director general of business lobbying organisation the CBI, added: "Small and medium-sized businesses are at the heart of communities across the UK and are the job-creating dynamos of the recovery.

"Small Business Saturday is a great way for people up and down the country to back their local high street in the run-up to Christmas and I would encourage everyone to get involved."

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