Have you started your Christmas shopping? Who is benefitting from what you spend? Local business? Or a large group headquartered miles away, maybe overseas?
I’m as big a culprit as anyone. Amazon is just too easy. Order online. Pay without fuss and wait for the delivery.
But big nationals and multinationals generally don’t return as much money to the local economy as local businesses. The profits tend to go to head office, which may be miles away in the UK, or overseas inEurope or America.
That leaves money from salaries, property charges and local services to trickle into the local economy. How many local businesses can afford units in our shopping malls?
But, local businesses find it difficult to afford the city centre shops that get the most footfall. Look around busy shopping centres like Aberdeen’s Bon Accord Centre, or Union Square. How many local businesses do you see in there?
To a lesser extent, the same goes for offices.
Perhaps it is time to do the same with local shops and offices as we do with housing.
In order to get planning permission, housing developers have to demonstrate their commitment to affordable homes for those who cannot afford the full cost of a roof over their heads. Why should commercial developers not have to demonstrate a similar commitment to affordable shops?
There are many family businesses and entrepreneurs starting new enterprises, or struggling to develop a longer established business, who would dearly love to set up in the centre of our cities. But, the only businesses that seem to be able to afford to take units in new malls are nationals or multinationals.
That is not good for business and it is not good for our cities.
The bonus in a resurgence of local businesses would come in the number of visitors coming to the city.
People are not likely to want to visit Aberdeen – or any other city – because it has precisely same shops and restaurants as every other city in Britain, offering precisely the same range of products.
What makes any city special is the small speciality shops, the family cafes, restaurants and unique family businesses. It is these unique places that make you want to visit, or return.
There could not be a better time to establish an affordable shops and offices scheme than now. Business rates rises means we are in real imminent danger of losing many of the local businesses that we still have.
At a time when we need to diversify the economy of Aberdeen, this would be a way of encouraging a new generation of entrepreneurs to grow their family businesses, or set up new businesses.