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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, December 1, 2016

Meeting of the Parliament 01 December 2016

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Small Business Saturday, Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility, Ending Violence Against Women and Girls, Business Motion, Decision Time


Small Business Saturday

The Presiding Officer (Ken Macintosh)

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-02359, in the name of Ash Denham, on small business Saturday. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises 3 December 2016 as Small Business Saturday; acknowledges that Small Business Saturday UK is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to “shop local” and support small businesses in communities in the Lothian region and across Scotland and the UK; understands that, in 2015, customers spent £623 million with small businesses on Small Business Saturday, which was a 24% increase from 2014, and notes the calls on Members to encourage local businesses to get involved and register on the website for promotion, to share their support on social media in the lead up to the day, and to arrange visits to small businesses in their constituencies and request media engagement with these visits in order to raise consumer awareness locally.


Ash Denham (Edinburgh Eastern) (SNP)

This Saturday marks the annual small business Saturday. Small business Saturday UK is a grass-roots, non-commercial campaign that brings attention to and encourages consumers to support local small businesses in their own communities. First, I thank all members across the chamber who will support the motion by speaking about small business today. From my Scottish National Party colleagues, Gillian Martin will speak about the importance of local support networks to small businesses, and Ivan McKee will speak about how to promote and grow small businesses. I will speak about my connection to small businesses through some of the small businesses that my family have run.

As the small business Saturday UK campaign also offers workshops to help inspire and support newer start-ups as well as existing small businesses, it can provide business skills to local communities to help them develop. Participating in small business Saturday is completely free to all small businesses that wish to get involved, and the evidence suggests that doing so would be worth while. Indeed, the Federation of Small Businesses supports small business Saturday’s aim of celebrating and supporting small businesses and local communities. The event originated in the United States in 2010 but, since the campaign began in the United Kingdom in 2013, there has been an increase in support for small businesses across the country as a result. In 2015, customers spent £623 million on small business Saturday, and 16.5 million adults went out to support small businesses.

Why do we need to encourage people to support the small businesses near them? They are a very important part of our economy. Ninety-eight per cent of businesses in Scotland are small; they employ more than 880,000 people and, in turn, generate more than £75 million for the Scottish economy each year. Small businesses account for 42 per cent of private sector employment and 27 per cent of private sector turnover. Moreover, they are growing: since 2010, they have created an additional 85,000 jobs.

Because of the expertise and culture that small business owners can bring to their communities, it is not a surprise that many local economies are being led by smaller businesses. The top four areas in Scotland with the highest percentages of small firms are Aberdeenshire, on 96 per cent; Orkney, on 95 per cent; and the Borders and Shetland, which are tied on 94 per cent.

After last year’s small business Saturday, many small businesses saw major increases in their sales and publicity. Alice Malcolm Green, the founder of Wick & Tallow, which is a scented candle company, said that her takings on that Saturday were about £1,000, which is double what that company normally makes on a Saturday. The campaign director, Michelle Ovens, said:

“The British public has a great affection for small businesses and we continue to see that grow year on year ... Although the campaign focuses on one day, the goal is to have a lasting impact on small businesses by changing mind-sets, so that people make it their mission to support small businesses all year round.”

I am planning a visit to a popular gift shop called Two Sisters in Portobello, which is a small business in my constituency. I am sure that many MSPs are planning to visit small businesses in their local areas.

My interest in and recognition of small businesses and the people who work to make them successful lie in the fact that some of my family members have run small businesses and that I worked in several small businesses that were run by others when I was at school and was a student. In fact, my first ever real job was in a small business—the Boathouse cafe in Instow, where I learned to take lunch orders from the customers and make creditable cups of coffee, I hope, when I was 14 years old. A few years after that, I worked for a small independent food store in Barnstaple.

Small businesses are in my blood. In the early 1980s, my father ran a video shop in Biggar. One side of the shop was for VHS videos and the other side of it was for Betamax videos. That makes me seem quite old. I think that that shop is to blame for the fact that I have a lifelong fear of sharks, as I snuck out a copy of the movie “Jaws” when I was probably much too young to watch it.

Around the same time, my parents had a kilt shop in Glasgow. My sister and I, who were quite young at the time, would spend our Saturdays in it. Sometimes, we were fed ice creams to keep us busy, and we watched people picking out kilts and accessories. That is the only explanation that I can think of for what happened a while later, when we moved down to England. My mother bizarrely decided to send me—a girl with red hair and a Scottish accent at that time—to my first day at my new school in Devon dressed in a kilt. I did not blend in quite as much as I had hoped to.

My mother finished up her working life running a small horticulture business with her husband. His horticulture skills and her design skills won them a Royal Horticultural Society gold medal, and they toured round the UK and France selling clematis at shows such as the Hampton Court flower show.

My grandparents also ran a successful small business for many years at the latter end of their careers. Anne’s sweet shop in Cumbernauld was a popular destination for many Cumbernauld kids and adults in the 1980s and 1990s. As a young teenager, it was absolutely great to have a granny with a sweet shop. I sometimes worked there in the holidays serving customers. Sometimes, I went to the cash-and-carry to buy stock. I occasionally ate the profits.

Those experiences meant that I saw at first hand how much hard work, self-belief and determination are often involved in running a business, but also how much satisfaction and what a sense of achievement small business owners derive from their businesses.

We should all try to shop local as much as we can. We should try to support the businesses in our local communities, because the money that is spent on a locally owned business is much more likely to stay in the community. We know that independent shops and other small businesses can struggle to compete in a market that is increasingly dominated by the big players, such as the larger supermarkets and Amazon in the online marketplace. If we do not support our local businesses, we will lose them.

I urge anybody who is listening to go along to a small business this Saturday and have a look. They might well be surprised.


Alison Johnstone (Lothian) (Green)

I congratulate Ash Denham on using time in the chamber today to speak about the importance of small businesses, and small business Saturday in particular.

I first learned about small business Saturday at a launch event in Edinburgh’s city chambers a year or so ago, at which we heard from different suppliers and from Michelle Ovens about why it is important to support this event. Many small businesses rely immensely on what happens this month in the run-up to Christmas. It really can give them a boost that sets the scene for the year ahead.

The small business Saturday campaign has conducted a UK bus tour. At the end of last month, the bus stopped in Edinburgh’s Grassmarket and gave people an opportunity to learn more about it.

On last year’s small business Saturday, there was a 24 per cent increase in business compared to the amount of business on that day in 2014. When polled, 46 per cent of people who shopped on small business Saturday in a small local business said that they had done so specifically because they wanted to support the event.

I had an absolutely fabulous time on small business Saturday last year. I went to a small shop in Tollcross called Dandelion & Ginger—I am wearing the scarf that I bought there on that day. Going to such a shop provides an experience that it is impossible to get in a chain store. I have to say that the refreshments that were provided on that day were first class, and I was introduced to a drink that I had not sampled previously—I will not go into further detail but, suffice to say, it has become a favourite at home. The choice of produce is remarkable. The shop has organic and sustainable goods, ethically traded goods, Fairtrade goods, handmade items and so on. The shop is beautiful and the really warm staff understand what they are selling and why they are selling it. It is one of my favourite shops, and I will certainly return to it.

In the Edinburgh Bookshop in Bruntsfield, we have one of the best bookshops that anyone could ever pop into. It won the UK children’s bookshop of the year award in 2014, it was named Scottish independent bookstore of the year in 2014 and 2015, it won the Scottish independent retail award for the best bookshop in 2015 and who knows what will happen this year.

Those two stores serve as examples of what we have on our doorstep and what we miss out on if we pass them by. I think that more people are shunning big businesses in favour of small independent businesses in order to take advantage of that diversity and for many other good reasons—the small business will have paid its tax bill, or it would not be on the high street; people are able to get quirky, one-off gifts while helping to build a sense of community; and it is possible to get a better deal. Further, shopping in those stores certainly does the local economy some good—as Ash Denham noted, a pound that is spent in the local economy is far more likely to stay in the local economy rather than ending up boosting some shareholder’s bank account.

The New Economics Foundation has produced two fabulous reports in this area: “Ghost Town Britain”, which dealt with the demise of the high street, and the recent “Clone Town Britain”, which speaks about the deep unease that people have about the increasing uniformity of high streets. Ash Denham was right to say that if we do not use these businesses we will lose them. It is fair to say that, in terms of shopping, there is little to distinguish Princes Street from high streets across the globe. We have an opportunity to ensure that that does not happen to our local high streets. I will certainly do all that I can to encourage local businesses in Lothian to register with and take part in the campaign, and members of this Parliament can do all that we can to publicise the efforts of those whose friendship we will make this coming small business Saturday.

I thank the Presiding Officer for letting me speak early in the debate, and apologise for the fact that I will have to leave early due to another commitment.


Rachael Hamilton (South Scotland) (Con)

Today, we recognise the importance of successful local economies and the role of small businesses. Being small can lead to an inferiority complex, particularly for men, but that is not the case for thousands of businesses that are participating in small business Saturday—they love small, and they love being different.

This Saturday, high streets in towns and villages will join in small business Saturday. Shopping locally is so civilised compared to promotional events such as black Friday and cyber Monday, which consist of a scrum in a large chain store for cut-price goods or a disappointing hour spent shopping on a computer for items that will end up in a charity shop—that is if the website does not crash before the items go into the online basket. For some UK retailers, discounting over the last weekend in November has become an unwelcome addition to the sales calendar. Far from boosting net sales, it has dented Christmas trading.

I want to mention a couple of local businesses in the south of Scotland. A Hume is an award-winning outfitters based in Kelso that successfully sells ladies’ and men’s country clothing. It also has a global online presence with a packing and processing office based in the building. Small business Saturday represents what people like Karen and Archie Hume are about. They are independent, they offer a personal service and go that extra mile. They have friendly staff and lots of niche brands that are not readily available on the high street. Shoppers can find something different, and they feel a sense of satisfaction about buying locally and knowing that, if they shop locally, they will support a sustainable community.

This Saturday, Kelso town centre will also offer the convenience of free and accessible town street parking. Retailers in Kelso support a variety of local community groups by giving raffle and auction prizes to local events and advertising at sports clubs.

Small retailers in the region that I represent have told me that they struggle to pay rents and bills, their cash flow is seasonal and weather dependent, and recruitment is difficult because many school leavers pack up and leave their roots to seek higher wages. It is this very lifeblood that we in the Scottish Parliament must support.

Retail employs 252,000 people in Scotland and is the country’s largest private sector employer. Small businesses have a key role in bridging the gap between business and education to develop our young workforce. Small retailers such as Hume’s provide most of the employment opportunities in rural locations and they believe that owning a business in a small community is a two-way process. Hume’s way of giving back to the community is to offer work experience pupils from Kelso high school a chance to trial the world of retail.

The Scottish Government has a target of cutting youth unemployment by 40 per cent by 2021. According to a Federation of Small Businesses study, 60 per cent of small businesses do not engage with schools. On the other hand, 38 per cent of firms say that skills shortages are a barrier to growth. Small business Saturday can effectively open up opportunities for business owners to work with schools to communicate their needs.

On Saturday, I will visit a small business called Present Perfect in Melrose. This gift shop will benefit from small business Saturday because its business will be promoted on a larger platform than its normal advertising budget can afford. On that particular day, local authorities are fully supportive, and offer customers free parking, which will incentivise shoppers to shop locally. Many towns have serious parking issues. Since the decriminalisation of parking, finding a space has been difficult and, in frustration, shoppers have headed to places such as Fort Kinnaird retail park, ditching their local high street.

I fully endorse Ash Denham’s motion, and I hope that more businesses will piggyback on the success of small business Saturday to build resilient communities. I hope that this UK-wide activity will maximise the potential of small businesses in the run-up to Christmas, create local demand, sustain jobs and boost confidence in the retail sector.


Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I start by congratulating Ash Denham on securing this timely debate and on her excellent speech.

Small business Saturday is a grass-roots campaign that is all about highlighting small business success and encouraging people to shop local and, in particular, to support small businesses in our communities. This is the third year of the campaign and I have participated in each and every year, and it has been more fun each time. I have no doubt that this year’s small business Saturday will be an astounding success in my local community, across Scotland and across the UK.

Ash Denham spoke about the stand-out statistic, and it is worth repeating: of the 350,000 private sector businesses in Scotland, an overwhelming 98 per cent are small. Small and medium-sized enterprises are really important to the Scottish economy, employing something like 888,000 people. They are important to my local economy and to my high street.

However, we should acknowledge that it is hard out there. Our shopping habits are changing. Some people prefer to shop online or at out-of-town retail centres, and the consequence of that can be seen in our high streets and town centres. If we want to reverse that trend, we have a choice: to shop local, not just at this time of year but all year round. Let us not moan about the high street having too many empty shops and then go somewhere else to do our shopping; let us make a commitment to spend more of our money locally.

In my area, the councils are taking action. In Helensburgh last weekend, there was a hugely successful winter festival that was attended by thousands of people, and I confess that I spent far too much money. The event was organised by volunteers, many of whom came from the chambers of commerce and some of whom were elected members, and it took place in the heart of the town, which Argyll and Bute Council redeveloped. In Dumbarton, the council is moving its headquarters into the town, bringing new footfall from more than 600 members of staff to the town centre. Already, on the back of that promise, we are seeing new small businesses starting up. Those are just some of the practical things that councils in my local area are doing to help.

We also need to record our thanks to the FSB, to local chambers of commerce and to the volunteers who sit—day in, day out—on town centre forums to support small businesses and our high streets. We know that small businesses provide jobs. They provide products and services, too, and they contribute to our local infrastructure and the diversity of shops on our high streets. Let us recognise the achievements of our small businesses in growing our local economies, let us encourage shoppers to return to our high streets and to use small shops, and let us put small businesses centre stage this Saturday.

Last year’s event had a huge impact, raising support and boosting sales for local entrepreneurs across a wide range of sectors. Consumers spent £623 million with small businesses, which was an increase of a quarter on the year before. Let us do even better this year. Nationwide, small business Saturday trended number 1 on Twitter that day, with something like 100,000 tweets sent out, which reached more than 25 million people. Let us do even better this Saturday.

I will be live tweeting—although I might not have as many followers as other members—when I visit Callaghan’s, a local butcher in Helensburgh where, I am told, I can get the best steak pie in the entire area. I am sure that Maurice Corry agrees with that. I will then visit Lily’s florist, in Alexandria, whose blooms have graced many a celebration. Finally, I will visit Wilkie & Rider, a locally owned optician’s in Dumbarton. I can tell you now that I will probably end up bringing home a steak pie, some stunning flowers and perhaps a new pair of glasses with which to read all our committee papers.

Wherever we are on Saturday, let us get everyone involved in supporting our small businesses—on social media, in the press and on our high streets. Let us celebrate the incredible work of small business owners and their staff, because small businesses do make a big difference.


Ivan McKee (Glasgow Provan) (SNP)

I thank Ash Denham for bringing to the chamber this debate on a very important issue. I also thank small business Saturday UK for organising the event, which is now in its third year, and the Federation of Small Businesses for the support that it has given to the event and that it gives to small businesses in a variety of ways all year long.

As several members have said, the importance of small businesses to the Scottish economy is significant, with 98 per cent of businesses being classed as small—that is, having fewer than 50 employees, although across Scotland they employ almost 900,000 people. I will concentrate on, first, how we can grow more new businesses and, secondly, how we can work with existing businesses to help them to grow and contribute more to the economy.

The number of small businesses in Scotland has been increasing in recent years, and there are now more than 300,000 private sector businesses, but we have still got a way to go and can do more to encourage more people to start up their own businesses. Many small businesses are family concerns that are passed down from generation to generation, but many others are start-ups. Those could involve young people who have recently finished their education and have a good idea to pursue; parents who have raised their children, are returning to the labour market and want to start their own business rather than work in a standard job; or people who are made redundant later in life, have a bit more experience and have the opportunity to market their skills and talents. That happened to me at the age of 40 and I started my own small business. It was one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Education is important to support that, and we could do more to encourage the development of entrepreneurial skills early in the education system, explaining the mechanics of how to start and operate a business. Young people might not go on to start a business immediately; they might decide to do so later in life, using the knowledge that they gained through that process. Such education gives members of the general population a better understanding of the issues that small businesses face.

Secondly, I want to talk about how we can help small businesses to grow. Not all small businesses want to grow to be world beaters; many are quite content to stay at their current size. However, many small businesses do want to grow, and we should encourage that. We must remember that all big businesses started off as small businesses. Through that growth process, we generate more jobs and more finance to support our economy.

It is important to understand that part of that process involves failure—I have been involved in a couple of business failures in my time. The process of trying something, it not working, learning from that and coming back to do something else is extremely important. That applies across a range of things, whether it be a high-tech start-up that some graduates have figured out, which leverages on the great academic institutions that we have in this country; somebody identifying a niche market, seeing an opportunity in an area in which no one is operating or figuring out a better way of delivering a product or service; or simply someone delivering on their small business ideas through instinct and hard work.

Small business Saturday gives us as MSPs opportunities to engage with small businesses in our community. As someone who comes from a business background, I have made a point of doing that—I have visited many small businesses throughout the course of the year and not just at this time of year. The initiative allows us to keep the focus on small businesses and on the important part that they play in helping to grow Scotland’s economy.


Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted to speak in this debate on small business Saturday, and I thank Ash Denham for lodging her motion.

Napoleon once called this country a nation of shopkeepers as an insult, but it is a badge of honour, for nothing strikes at the heart of who we are as a people more than our traditional high streets, and it is the small business that makes our high streets what they are.

As Ash Denham said, 96 per cent of businesses in Aberdeenshire are classed as small. As a representative of North East Scotland, I am always delighted to walk through the high streets of Inverurie, Banchory, Stonehaven, Forfar and Peterhead, which are places where small businesses still dominate the retail landscape.

Many of those businesses have already visited smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com to sign their businesses up for free and without obligation. By visiting smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com, they have been able to advertise their business using logos and the twitter hashtag #smallbizsatuk. That allows me, as a customer, to simply go to smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com, type in the town that I am going to be in on Saturday and find a local business to support.

For example, I will be in Broughty Ferry this Saturday morning and, by visiting smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com, I found Prego Boutique and Gregory Pecks Optician, which I shall be visiting among others. The same website also allowed me to plan on the way back up the road to pop by The Frockery in Forfar and Fancy That? in Edzell for vintage fashion just in time for Christmas, and I will probably stop by Angus Video Games in Brechin to pick up something for my nephew. Smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com has businesses all over my region, right up to Banff, where I am delighted to see my old friend Ian MacDonald of Buccaneer chandlery listed.

As a number of members have said, these are difficult times for our small businesses. Internet shopping rises year on year, and big chains offer ever more inventive discounts and sales. Black Friday, which did not even exist this side of the Atlantic three years ago, now stretches to a week, and the continued development of “shopping mall experiences” offers not only shops but a day out for all the family, which includes a trip to the cinema and the like.

Our small businesses are the lifeblood of the UK—15 million people in the UK are directly employed by them and they have a turnover of £1.75 trillion—so let us congratulate the small business Saturday team, its corporate supporters and the Federation of Small Businesses on the incredible work that they do every year on the initiative.

I would like to look at some of the stats from small business Saturday last year, as Jackie Baillie did earlier. Across the UK, customers spent £623 million with small businesses, which represented an increase of £119 million, or 24 per cent, on 2014, and #smallbizsatuk trended at number 1 all day, with more than 100,000 tweets being sent in support of the day, which reached more than 25 million people. More than 75 per cent of local councils actively supported the campaign and delivered on-the-ground activities, including free parking, Christmas fairs and small business networking events.

All that is why I am delighted to support small business Saturday this weekend. I wish all small businesses a very successful day and urge every member of the Parliament—and everyone outside it who can—to go to smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com and support their local small businesses, not just this Saturday but the whole year round.


Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

It is a huge pleasure to speak in this debate on small business, although it presents me with a small challenge: normally, we have to declare our interests and, given that my former job was being the managing director of a group of small shops, my whole speech will be something of a declaration of interests. To set your disquiet to one side, Presiding Officer, I should probably make a disclaimer: if I seem at any point to imply that there is only one small shop from which members can buy their Christmas presents, please be assured that there are plenty of other small businesses at which one can do one’s Christmas shopping.

I thank Ash Denham for bringing the debate to the Parliament. Small business Saturday is a hugely important event, and I am hugely passionate about small businesses, which are hugely important. It is easy to talk in statistics and numbers, but I am passionate about small businesses because they are about people. They are creative, individual, interesting and—above all else—fun. They are fun places to work in and fun businesses to run.

I love my new job of being an MSP, but I have to say that a small bit of me misses my old job. I miss the ability to strike out and do new, creative things and to implement my innovations straight away without having to go through processes or check with other people.

However, I am hugely thankful that I represent an area that has such a rich variety of creative shops and businesses. Alison Johnstone, who is no longer in the chamber, namechecked the Edinburgh Bookshop, but there is a huge number of others. I will visit Tippi, which is also in Bruntsfield, and, later, Clementine Home and Gifts. I am also pleased that, as a member of the Scottish Parliament, I continue my membership of the FSB, because we should support small businesses more than once a year.

Small businesses bring much to our economy, in three key dimensions. First, they enable their owners to do new and interesting things. They empower people to strike out and realise their innovations and ideas. In that way, they are genuinely an engine of innovation. I was quite amused when, the other week, Keith Brown talked about his father’s garage being stuffed full of all sorts of items that he was trying to sell. That struck a chord with me, because my dad was fond of describing how, in the late 1970s, he brought in Russia-made stools, sold them at a remarkable price and, in his own small way, helped with perestroika at an early stage.

Small businesses are great places for employees. Working in a small business is like working in a family. Small businesses can also provide empowerment. For example, in my business, every member of staff was able to be involved in ordering and buying. If members talk to people who work in large retailers, they will find that those people get locked out of those processes. To be frank, even store managers in large supermarkets do not have much input into ordering.

Above all else, small businesses are great places for customers. They are places where we can buy innovative products—things that we cannot find anywhere else. We find shops that are genuinely individual and tell their own story in a way that a chain store never does.

However, small businesses face challenges. It is worth reflecting on the fact that the name black Friday comes from the point in the year when many retail businesses start to make a profit. Throughout the rest of the year, they trade at a loss. Running a small retail business is tough. Rent, payroll and rates are all challenges. The small business bonus scheme is welcome, but because the savings are capped at £4,500, we still need a review of non-domestic rates.

Above all else, technology poses a huge challenge to businesses. I encourage the Scottish Government to look at ways in which we can support small businesses to adapt to and adopt technology, so that all our small businesses can take advantage of it.

I am running out of time—I could talk for ever about small businesses—so I will stop there, but I am pleased to be supporting small business Saturday this Saturday.


Gillian Martin (Aberdeenshire East) (SNP)

I thank my friend Ash Denham for bringing this members’ business debate to the chamber. It is good to see so many members taking part, using it as a good excuse to namecheck small businesses in their communities and, of course, repeatedly namechecking websites as well, Mr Kerr.

I will pay tribute to a small but growing group of female entrepreneurs who I have been happy to spend time with recently—they are the north-east Scotland ladies in business, or NESLIB for short. NESLIB was set up to provide support and networking opportunities to women who are setting up in business. The first steps into business are possibly the most important; such networks offer advice and support and play a vital role.

Further afield, I point to a recent project that Women’s Enterprise Scotland ran Scotland-wide. Over 10 weeks, it worked with the spouses of soldiers in the Edinburgh barracks to assist them in setting up in business. Two of those women came to Parliament to tell us about their burgeoning trading businesses at the cross-party group on women in enterprise, which I convene, with Jackie Baillie as the deputy convener. The hothousing approach of WES in that scheme unlocked economic participation by people who would have found it difficult otherwise, and the organisation is looking to roll out more such projects to women who have entrepreneurial potential but who are currently economically inactive.

Perhaps among those women are potential small business successes such as Ellon’s Johanna Basford, who was this week honoured with an OBE for her services to entrepreneurship and art. She is the pioneer of adult colouring books and her books sell worldwide. A simple idea that was born out of someone’s talent and passion for art has turned into a global business that operates from a small studio near Ellon.

I pay tribute to Inverurie business association. Its efforts to support local businesses have kept Inverurie as one of Scotland’s most successful market towns; it is a local shopping hub and has a vibrant town centre, despite competition from the internet and the pull of the inner-city shopping centres.

Small businesses in Inverurie have launched a business improvement district programme. A BID is a collaboration of all local businesses, which work together to improve a town’s environment for business and to improve the town centre. Businesses achieve that by agreeing to invest collectively to improve the trading environment over a fixed period, for the town’s benefit.

I congratulate north-east businesses on their buy north-east campaign, which has been hugely successful in getting out the message that it is important to support local businesses, particularly in the run-up to Christmas. I have been particularly impressed by the work that Fennel Media has done in Inverurie. It has made terrific short films to encourage us all to support local small businesses through social media by using the hashtags #eatlocal, which has showcased all the local restaurants, and #shoplocal, which has showcased all the local businesses that have been involved. After the debate, I will share those films again on my social media pages. Other towns can learn a lot from that innovative approach.

Jackie Baillie mentioned that West Dunbartonshire Council will be moving its headquarters into the centre of Dumbarton. That reminded me of the potential move of Aberdeenshire Council’s headquarters from Aberdeen city into Inverurie and of what that could mean for businesses in Inverurie. That would be a tremendous boost to our local economy and I will get behind and support moves to make that a reality.

Small businesses power the Scottish economy. I ask people to support small businesses as they begin their Christmas shopping this Saturday and throughout the year. Why not start by joining me at Glen Garioch distillery this Saturday? I am not going there for the reasons that members think—although that might be part of it. Glen Garioch distillery—which, incidentally, is the easternmost distillery in the whole of Scotland—is hosting a group of micro-businesses that will be showcasing all their wares in the rare fayre. That is what I will do this Saturday to support micro-businesses that work in my community.


The Minister for Local Government and Housing (Kevin Stewart)

I thank Ash Denham for bringing this debate on small business Saturday to the chamber, and I also thank all the members who have taken part. I apologise to Mr Johnson for missing a bit of his speech because my back went into spasm. That shows that I should visit a small business—Dana Blyth Therapies—because I have not been there for a while and Dana Blyth is the best at fixing my back.

We have had a glimpse today of the fantastic range of small businesses across Scotland, and the debate has helped to demonstrate their variety and the vital contribution that they make to the economy. I now know that Ash Denham is afraid of sharks, that Alison Johnstone will not tell us what she drinks and that there is an optician out there called Gregory Pecks—a big tick for humour there.

I come from a small business background. My father had an ice cream van when I was very young—it is one of the reasons why I do not eat ice cream any more—and then we had a family corner shop for a while, so I understand the difficulties that often exist in running small businesses and why it is so important for communities to support the businesses on their doorstep.

The Scottish Government welcomes small business Saturday—or smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com to Mr Kerr—because the campaign encourages people to support the local businesses that are so important to all our local communities. It is a great example of partnership working across the public, private and community sectors and I welcome the commitment to the campaign of the Federation of Small Businesses, Business Improvement Districts Scotland and our local authority partners, including business gateway.

Last year, as has been mentioned, some £623 million was spent with small independent businesses on small business Saturday. That is to be applauded. However, beyond the spend on the day, we must ensure that folk are encouraged to buy locally all the time. Gillian Martin highlighted the current buy north-east campaign, but this is not all about shopping locally; it is also about supporting other local businesses throughout the year. Plumbers, electricians and other tradespeople also deserve our support.

Many folk work tirelessly on the campaign throughout the year. In September, we saw its Scottish launch in Haddington at Black & Gold, which produces cold-pressed rapeseed oil, and in October, the campaign bus made the first stop on its UK-wide tour in Aberdeen. I was there, along with Andy Willox of the Federation of Small Businesses, and we watched local artist Shelagh Swanson try to paint a picture on what was a very wet day—she did very well. The bus has also been to Edinburgh and Stirling and I know that there was much support there, too.

Small business Saturday highlights a range of small businesses throughout the year in the small biz 100, and seven Scottish businesses have been featured—they are from Kelso, Falkirk, Durness, Inverurie, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The businesses operate in sectors that range from food and drink to beauty products.

Like other members, I plan to be out and about on small business Saturday, although I will not be in my constituency that day. I will be in Perth, so I will have to do lots of spending in my constituency tomorrow—I will probably start with Thain’s Bakery. Members can be assured that I will also sample some of Perth’s finest wares when I am there on Saturday. I know that the Minister for Business, Innovation and Energy has plans to visit businesses in his constituency, and he has been active in encouraging other MSPs to visit businesses in their constituencies.

I hope that this year’s small business Saturday will build on the success of previous years in raising the profile of small businesses the length and breadth of Scotland. The debate has made clear what a vital part of our economy small businesses are. More than 344,000 small businesses operate in Scotland and provide an estimated 887,000 jobs across the country. Those jobs are in local communities and contribute to inclusive growth and prosperity.

We celebrate the successes of small businesses, but we know that it is not always easy to run a small business. We are well aware of the challenges that are faced every day. As a Government, we are committed to helping small business to grow. We want to ensure that Scotland is the best place to do business in.

We offer a range of support to help small businesses through the business gateway and our enterprise agencies. Business gateway offers a first point of contact for all publicly funded advice to all businesses in Scotland. Last year, it supported more than 9,000 businesses to start up, which is estimated to have created nearly 10,000 jobs, with an additional 11,000 businesses benefiting from growth and local expert support.

We are also delivering the most competitive business tax environment anywhere in the UK. The small business bonus scheme removes or substantially reduces rates bills for more than 100,000 properties. That is why the FSB has said that the scheme continues to give most Scottish small firms a competitive advantage over their counterparts in other parts of the UK.

We know that many of our small businesses are based in town centres. The independent national review of town centres in 2013 helped us to set a new vision for our town centres. We want to improve the vibrancy of our towns across the country and we recognise their central role in community life as places for people to live, work, do business and socialise in.

As I am responsible for town centres and housing, I am always pleased to see new housing development in town centres, which boosts trade in those areas. I was recently in Alexandria, in Ms Baillie’s constituency, to visit a new development that is in the heart of the town centre, on an area of ground that had been derelict for a long time.

I recognise the roles that Scotland’s 36 operational business improvement districts play. I am glad to hear that Inverurie is also considering a BID. BIDs play an instrumental role in co-ordinating and supporting local activity, and BIDs across the country are enthusiastically supporting small business Saturday. Some have arranged special events to mark the day, including Barrhead town’s first ever Christmas lights event. In my area, the Aberdeen inspired BID will bring together local businesses, elected representatives, the FSB, Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce and business gateway to celebrate small businesses throughout the city this weekend.

I welcome the opportunity to recognise the small business Saturday campaign and to celebrate the success of small businesses across the country. I am sure that this year will build on the successes of previous years and recognise the vibrancy and vitality of our Scottish small businesses. I thank Ash Denham again for bringing the topic to the chamber and I thank all members who spoke in this important debate.

13:33 Meeting suspended.  14:30 On resuming—