NAPOLEON reportedly referred to the UK as, “une nation de boutiquiers” – a nation of shopkeepers.
In the age-old tradition of Anglo-French relations, it was meant as an insult but, let’s face it, small businesses are the lifeblood of this country.
With 400 pubs going out of business last year alone, local shops and cafes have become our all-important community hubs.
But now they too are struggling to survive.
Exhibit A is Clinton Pugh, 64, who has run Cafe Coco in Oxford for 31 years and says that the local council’s Low Traffic Neighbourhood scheme has seen his takings plunge by 25 per cent.
LTNs, for those blissfully unaware, are where bollards or large planters are put in place to close certain streets, forcing cars to sit in often gridlocked traffic on main roads.
By way of protest, Clinton, put up a banner to point out that the environmental scheme was strangling his business, but guess what?
Rather than engage with him over his concerns, Oxford City Council sent a letter saying the sign breaches planning rules and, if not taken down within 28 days, could result in a £2,500 fine.
This heavy-handed response tells you all you need to know about why hard-working people feel that those in authority — be it their local council, HMRC, or the Government — just aren’t on their side.
Could it be that, because these decisions are made by civil servants with gold-plated pensions, holiday pay, sick pay and set “office” hours (if they’re not working from home), they have zero concept of what it takes to run your own business, so favour virtue-signalling initiatives rather than helping the hands whose taxes feed them? Discuss.
Clinton’s plight may have made national headlines because he’s the father of A-list actress Florence Pugh, who used to work in the cafe, but his frustration is shared by the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of small businesses also affected by LTNs.
So even if he’s an unwitting poster boy for all small businesses struggling to survive, he’s a good one who knows his sustainably sourced onions.
He’s not against a “greener, cleaner Oxford” but says cutting off vital trade to struggling businesses is not the way to go about it and his protest banner is “just telling the truth”.
He adds: “It’s disgusting.
“I’m upset, I’m tired, I’m worried for my health.
“They’re going to destroy my 31 years of hard work.
“I could do without this stress.
“Closing the roads has meant people just aren’t coming.
“They say it takes too long.”
Some argue that other factors are at play too, such as the cost-of-living crisis prompting people to cut back on treats such as eating or drinking out.
But traders elsewhere in the country, particularly London, have also protested against the “mass exodus” of custom after LTNs were imposed, so their major impact cannot be ignored.
Some local residents love the schemes, because it makes their road quieter and potentially enhances the value of their home.
But these businesses can’t survive on a few cups of coffee alone, they need customers from further afield too.
And they will mostly come by car.
On top of all this, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s dogged determination to raise corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent in next week’s Budget could see many big businesses moving their listings — and with it, jobs — from the London Stock Exchange to a lower tax location like the US.
British billionaire James Dyson, inventor of the hi-tech vacuum brand, describes Tory tax policies as “stupid and short-sighted”.
The same could also be said of the many ill-placed LTNs affecting small businesses.
Much more of this and our nation of shopkeepers is going to have “permanently closed” on the door.
Splash out on holiday
FAVOURITE story of the week is the news that 18 “social media influencers” accidentally fell in to the designer water features during the launch weekend of a £1billion hotel in Dubai.
Stop laughing at the back.
Just like the Vicar Of Dibley disappearing in a deep puddle while trying to impress her date, pratfalls without injury are side-splittingly funny.
Consequently, one influencer who was filming herself looking at a statue in the lobby inadvertently went viral on TikTok after falling in one of the indoor ponds that look like part of the floor.
Now staff at Atlantis The Royal have put velvet ropes around the danger zones until a more permanent solution can be found.
It will need to be a “concept design” that complements the 20ft-high crystal lava trees, Louis Vuitton suitcase sculpture, 90 swimming pools and “world’s largest” jellyfish tank.
Gold-plated traffic cones would do it.
Where do I send the invoice?
By the book
SENSITIVITY readers are apparently poring over Ladybird classic books such as Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty to edit out anything identified as “outdated” or “harmful”.
The only good thing to come from this will be that the unexpurgated versions I’ve kept from my childhood will now shoot up in value.
Party of two
WHATEVER the whys, hows, whens and wherefores of Sue Gray’s proposed appointment as Labour’s Chief of Staff, it’s rather troubling that former lawyer (and assumed strategist) Sir Keir Starmer didn’t anticipate that it would give ousted PM Boris Johnson and his cronies the gift of being able to shout “fix” over her Partygate investigation.
‘Covid Death’ truth
REMEMBER the men dressed in head-to-toe PPE suits as they lowered the coffin into the ground of “the first child to die from Covid in Britain”?
It was March 2020, the start of the pandemic, and it perplexed us that someone “healthy” could be killed by the virus.
Now, three years on, an inquest into Ismail Abdulwahab’s death has revealed there were other mitigating factors.
Ismail, from Brixton, South London, was admitted with breathing difficulties to King’s College Hospital in London and a tube was inserted into his airway.
But it later dislodged, potentially hindering the ventilator and triggering a cardiac arrest.
Professor Akash Deep, an intensive care consultant at the hospital, told the inquest that the misplacement of the tube, Ismail being overweight, Covid pneumonia and the cardiac arrest could all have been contributory factors to his death.
He added that Ismail, “probably died with Covid, not of Covid”.
How many recorded deaths “of Covid” had other contributory factors?
We’ll probably never know.
Matt’s own goal
MUCH has already been written about Whats-Appgate, so I won’t dwell.
Suffice to say, Matt Hancock’s seeming obsession with how things look comes across, rightly or wrongly, as rampant self-interest.
One of the messages he passed on was from an unnamed “wise friend” who suggested that a “well-handled crisis of this scale could propel you into the next league”.
Unfortunately, it’s the Southern Combination League Division Two.
Johnny’s feelin’ vintage
JOHNNY Depp popped in to Hemswell Antiques Centre in Lincolnshire at the weekend.
Given his, ahem, “vintage” outfit, I’m surprised they didn’t stick on a price tag and place him in the window.
Not so fast
WILTSHIRE police says my car was clocked by its “Community Speed Watch team” doing 29mph through the town of Cricklade when the limit is 20mph.
The letter goes on to tell me how many deaths are caused by road traffic accidents each year and warns that, “should your vehicle be monitored exceeding speed limits within Wiltshire again, it will be added to a list of persistent speeders which is closely monitored by officers nationwide.”
Trouble is, I wasn’t in Cricklade at 10.24am on February 28.
In fact, I have never been to Cricklade.
I was in London that day.
And so was my car.
So, as I have explained via the email address given (no reply as yet), my number plate could have been duplicated, particularly as the letter doesn’t give the make and model of the offending vehicle.
Or the Community Speed Watch team need to go to Specsavers.