Speaking up for rural businesses
Recently I was invited to join a panel at the Bath Business Show, sitting alongside people whose interest was mainly in the centre of the City, to provide a voice from the rural area of North East Somerset.
The event was held in the Business School at the University of Bath, a huge new and impressive building. No wonder it has been named as University of the year for 2023.
The theme of the meeting was to try to imagine what the future of the economy in the district might look like and what steps we need to take to ensure long term sustainable economic growth.
Three issues always come to the fore – housing, transport and provision of work space. They apply to the big city just as much as they do in our villages. We were asked to say which was the most vital, and whilst there was some support for housing, the consensus seemed to be that transport was the key to success.
In the City that meant calling for improved public transport so that relatively large numbers of staff who couldn’t afford to live in Bath could find a way of getting to work.
In places like the Chew Valley we can only dream of such a service. The truth is we are reliant on motor cars to get around and many business people on their vans. You only need to glance out at our roads to see the amount of traffic and the number of vans, some quite old, which trades people rely on to get around to provide their essential services.
We are hearing how Clean Air Zones are impacting on some of those businesses, forcing them into debt to cover the cost of buying newer compliant vehicles. It goes without saying the Chamber supports efforts to improve urban air quality, but it seems harsh that small businesses pay a high price and although there may be subsidies available, they go nowhere near covering the additional costs they incur.
I made the point quite strongly that rural communities don’t have the benefit of a proper public transport system. No one is going to rely on the dial a ride service for getting to work. Therefore, people who depend on their cars or vans to go about their business should not be made to feel as though they are doing something wrong when they have no alternative.
Electric vehicles may be the future, but I suspect the huge number of conventional cars and vans we see on our roads will be with us for many years to come.
If you would like to find out more about our Chamber of Commerce please visit chewvalleychamber.co.uk