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Business Doesn’t Have To Be Bad

Untitled-1As a businessperson, a long time retailer, and now a retail commentator and journalist, one of the most difficult things for me to reconcile is my involvement in the promotion of consumerism.

That’s at odds with my more recent conviction that we can’t continue to squander the world’s finite resources on WANTS, whilst ignoring the NEEDS of most of the planet’s population.

The Green Party might be seen by some as an anti-capitalist movement. We are however a broad church with many facets. I was encouraged to become a candidate BECAUSE of my business experience rather than in spite of it, and I saw that as an encouraging aspect.

I’ve run large companies, and I now run a small one. I’m probably something of a gamekeeper turned poacher. But I’ve seen both sides of this debate and come to realise that the idea of continual economic growth is indeed a myth. And one we have to stop believing before we run out of road.

I was at the launch of a new book by Naomi Klein a few months ago.  She makes some interesting points about the connections between environmental issues and the global economy.  The basic tenet is that when resources and commodities are monetised on the kinds of scale they are now, the result is economic and environmental catastrophe. And we’re just getting a taste of that.

The direct impacts are of course climate change, which if you ascribe to that view, is starting to bring with it the kinds of drastic changes in weather patterns that we’ve seen in recent years.

These are all things we’re having to come to terms with now and they’re all traceable to global economic activity. They affect all our lives, not just personally, but in broader human and economic terms.

I’m a vocal advocate of social enterprise, and believe that there are many big businesses out there that can be made to take a more ethical and responsible stance if we create the right conditions to encourage it.  And happily for me there is already a growing movement within the more enlightened areas of the business world towards ethical business and sustainable capitalism.

That might sound like some thing of an oxymoron, but in many sectors of business now there’s a realisation dawning that if we continue to squeeze the pips of the economy, we’ll eventually run out of juice.

Amidst calls from some people for a revolution against rampant capitalism, I see the future as more of an evolution towards a business ethos that views social justice and connection with local and national communities as an asset, rather than an inconvenience.  I’m certainly not anti-capitalist, but I am anti-unfettered capitalism. I agree that the market should be allowed to decide some things. But I believe the state has the job of holding us all to account for our actions and tempering the excesses of marketisation to prevent it working against the common good.

And it’s not just us greeny types taking up this mantra. Many key economists and business commentators are now having similar epiphanies about how business and consumption needs to be managed in a sustainable, responsible and accountable way, if we’re all going to avoid a backlash against the kinds of excesses and irresponsible business practices that became prevalent over the past 20 or 30 years.

Essentially businesses need to grow up and take responsibility for the societies we’ve helped to create.

I’ve recently become very interested in something now being called the circular economy, where consumption itself is fed back into the creation of new resources and products.  This doesn’t just encompass recycling, but also upcycling and renewable energy as part of the manufacturing process, along with emergent technologies, social media, and the fourth economy, comprising enterprises that not only make a profit for business owners, but also put something back into the social economy.

That might all sound a bit hippy and tree-huggy, but it’s something that’s being taken very seriously now by many key figures in the business world. Most notably Bill Gates and Richard Branson. And with good reason.

If you can make money with clean conscience, look after your employees, business partners, suppliers, and most importantly the planet AND enjoy what you’re doing, what’s not to like?

You also get to sleep pretty well at night too

So I hope I can convince you that there is scope within a Green World for enterprise and innovation. Without the need for a constantly growing economy and an ever greater consumption of the worlds finite resources.

With the potential for over a million green jobs out there, and an ethical economy that has only scratched the surface of an emerging market, there are plenty of opportunities for business leaders and entrepreneurs in a future Green and pleasant land.

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Visit to Banbury Market 17th January 2015

market sheetLast week myself and John Haywood from the Banbury and Cherwell Green Party visited the market in central Banbury to speak to the stall holders about the changes being proposed to this 1000 year old tradition in the heart of an historic town.

We spoke with all the stallholders present, although sadly they were only 10 of them trading on the day.  They were all all opposed to Cherwell District Council’s illogical and damaging decision to restrict the stalls to the Cornhill end of the Market Place.  A plan also supported by the Conservative controlled Town Council.

I started my own 25 year long retail career on a market stall, and worked it for 7 years with my partner though rain, hail sleet, snow and sunshine.  I know how difficult it can be to make a living and how fragile the trading environment can be.  Your livelihood can depend on so many variable factors, and one of the major fears is losing your regular pitch, for whatever reason.

It may seem silly to anyone who hasn’t traded in a market themselves, but where your stall sits can make all the difference between success and failure.  The location of competing trades, the flow of people moving through the market, who your neighbours are, your visibility and prominence in the market as a whole are all desperately important.

There appears to have been absolutely no consultation with stall holders or customers about these unpopular changes, and based on what stallholders and visitors told me I foresee them being the death knell for this historic trading post as more and more traders fall by the wayside.

So what seems like a minor change to the council, will probably be anything but to the people trying to make a living out of the market.  This move could likely kill it off!  it’s already become smaller and therefore less popular, especially over the last 20 years. In 1997 there were 120 stalls, now its down to less than 20.

Considering it’s reduced pull for consumers it’s completely incongruous that the rents being charged by the private firm managing on behalf of the council are almost double that charged by neighbouring markets such as Abingdon, Aylesbury, Hinkley, Oxford and Thame.  And as with most things these days, the rent goes up every year.  Meanwhile trade is slowly dwindling away to nothing, leaving regular and loyal traders quite literally out in the cold.

saleThe Council’s plan includes opening the Market car park for use on Thursdays and Fridays. There is no evidence to suggest this will increase car park usage and revenue to the Council – people already using other car parks such as that near to the Matalan Store will simply park in the market place instead.

Government initiatives on town centre regeneration called for more emphasis and support for market days and the traders that build and run these vital hubs of trade and local amenity in our towns and cities.  The Portas review cited markets as one of the easiest ways that town centres could be revitalised and kept alive.  Why then is the Conservative run Cherwell Council ignoring the views of it’s own established market traders?  Why are they proposing moves that could potentially irreparably damage trade in such an established and once vibrant local fixture?

Banbury market should be seen by Cherwell Council as an asset to the town.  They should be supporting it actively and engaging with the traders and customers to find ways of safeguarding the it’s future, rather than taking unilateral actions with no consultation.

This is a Charter Market, which bestows on Banbury the status of a Market Town.  By birthright it should be located in the Market Square.

I would urge Cherwell councillors to do what I did.  Take a walk around the market and speak to the people whose livelihoods are in their hands.  Speak also to the local residents and patrons of the market and ask them what they think about the priorities that they are planning to enforce on everyone.

This is not a decision that can be taken just by moving squares on a map.

me and john landscape

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A Great Event in Banbury to Support Indies This Weekend

Give us FiveRetail is in my blood! And I know it’s not all about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and Think about it Tuesday!

I’m a small independent retailer myself, and I know how vital this time of the year is for small businesses, many of them struggling against the huge chain stores and out of town developments.  Most small retailers need to make 40% or more of their annual turnover in the run up to Christmas or they may not be here next time.  Please think about that when you’re doing your Christmas shop.  If you want vibrant, original, independents you have to show them some love and splash a bit of cash.

As a campaigner and writer on all things retail, I’ll be supporting my local indie high street this weekend.  I hope you will too!