By Dominique Brady
Customers are fewer, spending is falling and costs are rising, worried business owners from Southwark told local MP and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman.
Southwark Chamber of Commerce has begun working with members of the small business community to alleviate the pressure on them. It has released an emergency email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for businesses to contact if they are experiencing difficulties.
A local businessman exporting industrial equipment from America and Britain to Africa says the strong pound is “crippling” his international business. Small catering companies and clothing stores have also complained of reduced customer expenditure and rising supply costs.
Travel agencies including JP Travel on Peckham Road and The Russia House Ltd of Borough Road, which arranges tours to Russia, are experiencing reduced business and delays getting invoices from customers.
The voluntary and third sector employees complained of reduced government funding, impacting on a range of services, including creative community work with teenagers and art therapy work in hospitals and prisons.
Harriet Harman has been listening to the concerns. “It’s very important for me to work out the gap between what we think is going on and what is actually going on,” she said.
Harman said she had listened to the employees’ concerns and understood Southwark small businesses are demanding more financial support. She assured council funding and retail space would be protected, not sold off for housing, if firms went bust.
Peter Mantell, partner of Anthony Gold Solicitors in Walworth, said: “The meeting was effective in taking our concerns to the government via Harriet Harman.” He added: “Whether it was effective or not depends on what she took away from it and does from it.”
JP Travel Services in Peckham
John is the manager of JP Travel Services in Peckham and has already felt the impact of the credit crunch. The 49-year-old father of three runs a small, independent travel agency, which specialises in flights and package holidays to West Africa and America. He said the credit crunch has already reduced his business as much as 50 per cent.
He explained that the travel industry has already been hit hard in the last 12 months by rapidly rising taxes on flights and people choosing to book bargain deals on the internet. He has expanded his business in Peckham to include an internet café, in an attempt to buffer his finances.
However, the additions may not be enough. With the impending recession, customers are now deserting the travel agency in droves.
“Before they would walk into a travel shop to book things but now they will research around on the internet to save money.” – The manager, JP Travel Services
With is becoming increasingly difficult to get financial support from banks, and custom diminishes, John is not sure his business can survive a recession. “I will have to add other things to my business, but I don’t know what to add to it now.”