I congratulate my hon. Friend David Tredinnick on introducing this important Bill. For as long as I represent the constituents of Thirsk and Malton, I will be a champion of small independent businesses. Everything we do in terms of regulation, taxation and infrastructure should consider the needs of small businesses, and in particular try to create the level playing field with large business that we absolutely need to encourage the success of the local small independent retailer and business. Small independent businesses account for about 60% of our private sector-employed workforce and about 50% of our private sector turnover, so they are hugely important.
I must draw the House’s attention to my entry in the declaration of Members’ Financial Interests. Our estate agent business has about 190 small, independent outlets around the UK in various high streets and market towns. We do not particularly rely any more on footfall, so that is not a big issue for us in terms of car parking and people coming to town or city centres, but it is a big issue for the general health of our towns, villages and cities in helping to ensure that we have a vibrant and healthy sector in our high streets and town centres.
We started our business in 1992, and it grew and we became the market leader in our town of York, which is where our first business started. We thought, “This is going quite well. We’re doing okay here. Our business is starting to prosper.” Three or four years later, however, another very good independent started up in York city centre, and started to take market share off us. We had to look very carefully at the business we were operating and what we were doing, and we started to work harder again. It made us focus on what had made us successful in the first place.
That is a small illustration of the importance of small independent businesses. It is not just about the fact that they are at the heart of communities and about the fact that they provide better service, as my hon. Friend Jo Churchill said; it is also about their dynamics and the commercial realities of business. Small businesses hold big business to account. Wherever we have a big business monopoly—big businesses tend to monopolise the big out-of-town shopping centres—quality is often not as good. An extreme example of that is BT, which is a private sector monopoly, and we all get letters and complaints from constituents about the lack of quality from private sector monopolies, so we need a balance. This nation quite rightly has many good big businesses—my business aspires to be a big business—but we must ensure that the small independent business sector is vibrant. That is why this Bill is so important.
I have experience of some really bad local government car parking policies, and I referred earlier to the policy in York, where we started our first business. York is not in my constituency, but it is just down the road and many of my constituents work in York or have businesses there—our head office is still in York. The city council had a policy of selling off important city-centre car parks, which created revenue for the council and generated section 106 contributions from the developers of those car parks, but that led to more demand for and pressure on the remaining car parks and the charges were increased. It costs £2 an hour to park in the centre of York—a ridiculous figure that deters people from going into the centre. At the same time, the council granted planning consent for out-of-town shopping centres with free parking, and there are four such centres around York—a town of 200,000 residents. Local businesses were not consulted about that. In the conversations that did happen, there was panic from some independent retailers in the centre of York, but the council pushed ahead anyway, much to the detriment of those city-centre retailers.
There are some more positive examples in my constituency. Hambleton District Council has an innovative policy in some of its towns, such as Thirsk, where the council allows people to park for an hour in the market square. People get a ticket from the machine and stick it in the window, but they do not have to pay anything for an hour’s free parking, or they can pay 60p and park for two hours. That has created shopper turnover in the town centre, which is exactly what businesses want. They want people to come in and shop in that short shopping cycle. It is easy for people to go for lunch or just shop for a short period without having to go home and get their money to put in the machine—unless they want to pay to park for longer.