LOCAL businesses play a vital role in the life of our communities. Yet the past few years have seen them operate in uniquely difficult circumstances and it is vital we do what we can to support them.

This is the Scotland Loves Local Week, a campaign which is putting localism at the heart of a stronger, greener, fairer Scotland.

Given the challenges imposed by the pandemic, the raising up of Brexit barriers with the EU and skyrocketing input costs caused by record levels of inflation, I take my hat off to any local business that has managed to stay standing despite everything.

Stirling of course is home to numerous local businesses and I have been enjoying getting out and about over the recess to hear how they are doing and raising awareness of all the good they do in their community. It’s one of the reasons I launched the “Alyn’s Local Heroes” campaign a few months ago to help highlight all the amazing work and fantastic enterprise that my constituency has.

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I am glad to see so many people nominating their own local heroes so if you’re reading this and are in Stirling, please do get in touch with a business that deserves recognition!

Local businesses play a crucial role not only in bringing business and providing jobs in local communities, but they are also a vital social good. Many of us will have a local we enjoy meeting friends for pints or a cafe where we might enjoy a coffee with a good book.

Good businesses do not just bring money – they bring hope and opportunity.

Yet warm words only go so far and it is difficult to pay invoices or bills with a well-crafted phrase. I have been actively engaged in recent months with the hospitality sector to pressure the UK Government into cutting VAT by 5% for these types of businesses. It would be a straightforward measure which was implemented during the pandemic.

At the same time, it would be universal and avoid the excessive bureaucracy that the UK Government loves to create (as seen with the ballooning of departments and civil servants to cope with the increased demands of Brexit).

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In my discussions with various trade bodies such as the Scottish Licensed Trade Association and the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, it has consistently emerged as the single best policy which could help the sector quickly and effectively.

I sincerely hope that the UK constructively engages – it is a policy which would have benefits across these islands particularly given that the UK is an outlier in having a flat rate of VAT across the economy.

It is though, another clear sign that Scotland’s interests will never be truly represented by an anti-business, anti-worker UK Government – whatever shade of blue or red it may be.

Only independence in Europe will help our local businesses not only survive but thrive.

Fishermen looking to sell their produce to the restaurants of Paris, Milan or Madrid will no longer have to deal with Brexit barriers but can return to the status quo ante.

Small-scale farmers will be part of a larger labour market and therefore have enough people to harvest what they sow.

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And by getting back into the European mainstream, our councils will once again be able to access EU structural funds to help improve the infrastructure that connects all our communities.

Scotland might be a small country but we have consistently punched above our weight throughout our history.

Businesses have their own self-interests but, especially at the local level, this self-interest more often than not lends itself to communal benefits through the provisions of vital services (a point Adam Smith himself famously made).

As we start to approach the end of summer, let’s do what we can to support our local businesses.

And as we gear up for next year’s election, let’s make sure we continue to stand up for Scotland’s businesses by advocating for that policy which will help us all – independence in Europe.