ON Small Business Saturday last weekend, I spent the day visiting some of the excellent independent shops and businesses in Oxford – from the Nash’s bakery branch in Blackbird Leys, to the various businesses in the Covered Market, to the Polish Kitchen on Rose Hill.

We are so lucky to have such a variety of excellent small businesses in our city, but many are struggling now as never before.

As we all know, large numbers of businesses in the city depend heavily on tourism and other visitors.

Others have been hit hard by the impact of public health restrictions.

Others still have been impacted by the need for staff to self-isolate.

This is a challenge for any business, but particularly for smaller concerns when there’s very little slack in the system.

Normally, Small Business Saturday comes at a point when our streets are already thronged as the Christmas shopping period begins.

But this year it feels like a very different run-up to Christmas for our local shops, restaurants, cafes and other small businesses.

Oxford Mail: Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds meets traders in her constituency on Small Business Saturday 2020 (December 5). Picture: Anneliese DoddsOxford East MP Anneliese Dodds meets traders in her constituency on Small Business Saturday 2020 (December 5). Picture: Anneliese Dodds

I know that Oxford businesses and the city council are working together to ensure that traders and customers can stay safe and will continue to collaborate when restrictions and advice change.

Some people - including those who have been shielding - may be uncomfortable or unable to shop in person.

However, the city council have worked hard to ensure there is a directory of businesses who are operating online, which you can find here: https://www.oxford.gov.uk/businessesopenonline.

During this pandemic, large numbers of local small businesses have gone above and beyond to support local people.

Many of them have worked with the Oxford Hub to ensure that anyone who needs support during this time can access it.

They deserve our thanks.

It is crucial that our local businesses are supported to see them through the winter.

That includes ensuring that the furlough scheme remains as it is through the winter, without any more tinkering by the Government.

It also means helping those businesses that have fallen through the gaps in support.

While Oxford city and the Local Enterprise Partnership have done a great job in getting Government funding out, design problems with the schemes mean many local businesses (especially micro-businesses) missed out.

They now need targeted Government support to keep going until they can resume business as usual.

And of course, we must ensure that the vaccine is delivered speedily so that we can finally return to normality.

I am so grateful to all those people in Oxford who have been working hard both to develop the Oxford vaccine, and to ensure that the facilities at the Churchill are ready to begin the vaccination of the first target groups.

Please can I finish by encouraging all readers to do what they can to support our local businesses safely this Christmas - whether that’s shopping in person, or ordering from local businesses and shops online. If we don’t use our small businesses, we could lose them!

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