Divert a few shopping pounds to local champs
The Saturday before last saw me supporting Small Business Saturday as I do every year.
On this occasion, I was making a return visit to the winner of my 2015 Small Food Shops competition.
Nigel Wilkinson’s Quality Meat Specialists on Holmfield Road is not only a vibrant part of the local community, but they are also active charitably on behalf of Blackpool Carers’ Centre with special sausages and burgers on sale throughout the year.
It was clear throughout the morning I was there what a broad mix of people will still make the effort to go to a specialist shop.
Not only is the quality usually high, but the time they have to give out tips and advice normally exceeds what is offered by the supermarket chiller cabinet!
Shopping trends change, I know. Surviving in smaller shopping areas gets no easier as lives get busier and habits change.
Even the great massive hypermarkets have declined in popularity in recent years as people begin to opt for a nearby convenience store rather than one big weekly shop.
But not all trends last. Black Friday was meant to transform our retail landscape – remember the scenes of scuffles over widescreen TVs a few years ago – but this year seemed to be a damp squib with lower than average takings.
So wouldn’t it be great if 2017’s retail revolution was a return to our smaller shopping streets.
Think where you live – whether in my constituency or not.
Is Waterloo Road not due for revival? Are there not undiscovered gems in Red Bank Road? Might there not be new opportunities for something a little different in Cleveleys town centre.
The health of our community might well depend on diverting just a few of your shopping pounds to those local champions.
Getting the best deal possible
Anyway, spending my morning in the butchers and listening to the conversations struck up because there was an MP there, I realised just how interested people are still in the big national issues.
Engagement might often drop between elections, but it is clearly the case that so much is going on at the moment, everyone still has a view.
What amazes me still is the degree to which the so-called metropolitan sophisticates keep trying to tell me why I, along with 65 per cent or so of my local area, voted Leave. We didn’t understand the issues. We didn’t know what we were voting for. We felt left behind, ignored, and overlooked. We were ‘peripheral’ to the needs of the nation. Yet most of my conversations with constituents demonstrate the complete opposite.
Now, I always made clear before the EU referendum that I wouldn’t complain over how anyone voted as long as they thought it through before they went one way or the other. And that still holds true. I may have opted for Leave – but that doesn’t mean the roughly third of the local electorate who voted Remain suddenly cease to matter or are in some way to be less respected.
So I recognise the challenge is to ensure we leave the EU in a way that meets expectations without taking unnecessary risks. Like many people, I would love to see what the outcome of the negotiations will be right now – I’m a naturally curious person.
But I’m equally clear that negotiations don’t work like that. Whatever we agreed on as a nation will not be the outcome after the other EU members have waded in to matters.
I know Theresa May and our leaders will do their utmost to deliver the best possible deal.
As much as we might want detailed running commentary, I don’t think it’s any way to negotiate.
One of the challenges as a Minister is to not work any less hard in the constituency.
It’s a challenge I’m up for.
So I was really pleased to see that after months of encouragement and pressure, the Financial Conduct Authority is going to review the business practices of chains like Brighthouse and Perfect Home who offer rent-to-own consumer products.
Now I’ve always been clear that there will always be people on relatively low incomes for whom the certainty and predictability of paying for consumer goods through small weekly payments is a perfectly valid business model. We don’t want to see it disappear as an option, as people will just resort to riskier forms of lending.
At the same time, it’s a business model that can always improve how it deals with customers who fall into debt.
It can always improve its transparency, and not oblige people to take on costly extra warranty or insurance that they may not need. They can always do more to ensure that those already vulnerable to debt don’t take on more.
The FCA’s announcement is a welcome one after three years of an ongoing campaign – let’s hope we all get a better deal as a consequence.