Column by Thornbury and Yate MP, Luke Hall.

Small and local businesses are the backbone of South Gloucestershire’s economy. As someone who worked in Lidl in Yate before being elected, I know that our economy is as innovative and dynamic as anywhere in the country. Supporting jobs, businesses and our High Streets has never been more important than it is now.

That’s why we have produced one of the most comprehensive packages of support anywhere in the world, both for workers and for businesses. We are doing everything possible to ensure people can pay their bills, put food on the table and get customers back on to the shop floor.

To protect jobs, in Thornbury and Yate alone, over 10,400 people have been furloughed through the Government’s Job Retention Scheme, and 3,200 claims were made to the Self Employment Income Support Scheme. To protect businesses, we created a £330 billion package of loans and guarantees.

With non-essential retail employing more than 1.3milion people in the UK, many of these payments have been to support people in retail and hospitability. Retail is hard graft; retail workers are some of the unsung heroes of this pandemic. They deserve our gratitude, support and respect.

These furlough and job retention schemes have proven vital in ensuring that, now we are starting to lift parts of the lockdown, as many people as possible have jobs to go back to.

We are seeing teams return to work and our High Streets come back to life. Non-essential shops can now re-open, providing they are meeting robust safety guidelines, keeping staff and customers safe as they get our economy moving again.

We have seen so many local businesses take extraordinary steps to make sure that their shops are safe; putting in place one-way systems, plastic screens and social distancing to ensure that we can shop in safety and confidence. It is now up to us to support our beautiful High Streets in Chipping Sodbury, Thornbury, Marshfield, Wickwar and so many others.

Nationally, a High Streets Task Force has been set up, backed with a £50 million fund, to support our high streets through this challenging time. This will provide access to cutting-edge tools, training, information and advice for high streets across England.

We are seeing incredible local initiatives, such as the Gazette’s “Love local business” campaign, to encourage readers to back our traders by spending money with them in South Gloucestershire.

To every small and local business in South Gloucestershire; we are here to support you. We stand behind you. We are indebted to you. If there is anything more I can do to help navigate these difficult times, please let me know and I will do everything I can to help.