Mike Cherry, FSB: SMEs have “rapidly and radically transformed”

17 May 2021, 08:42 AM
  • Small, rural businesses have shown their resilience during the pandemic, and there are opportunities ahead, writes Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses
Mike Cherry, FSB: SMEs have “rapidly and radically transformed”

Before Covid-19 hit, the UK’s food and drink sector had a turnover of around £30 billion. Pubs, restaurants and cafés are a bedrock of the economy, providing jobs and attracting tourists from all over.

Local produce is key – with examples ranging from local chocolatiers to microbreweries.

Struggling under the weight of lockdowns, our resilient small business community has had no choice but to rapidly and radically transform business models.

Across the UK, we saw 16 percent of small businesses increase their online presence or develop a new one, including delivering their offering online. Meanwhile, 10 percent diversified into producing new services during the lockdown.

But while rural food and drinks businesses contribute to the rich landscape of a community, challenges include parking, rents, the closures of bank branches, business rates, potholes and out-of-town competition. A lack of public transport can particularly impact the hospitality sector, too.

However, despite the challenges, there are a wealth of opportunities available to small firms. Sustainable food and farming could revive rural areas, while a hybrid working model may encourage more people to move out of cities.

The pandemic has encouraged people to stay at home and shop local and climate change may further fuel this trend, with more people looking for sustainable, local produce.

But our rural food and drink businesses took a battering during the lockdowns, and this time last year, the future looked bleak to them. But now there’s a chink of light at the end of a very long tunnel, with news of grants offering firms some much-needed reassurance ahead of England’s reopening in June.

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