Representatives from all tiers of local and national government have jointly signed an open letter to the people of St Neots imploring them to support the town’s economy.
The letter has been signed by the town’s new mayor, Cllr Stephen Ferguson, Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly, deputy mayor Rob Simonis, all St Neots town councillors and several district and county representatives, 26 in total.
The document also pays tribute to townspeople who have supported the community during the corornavirus pandemic, but warns of difficult times ahead. Many independent businesses in the town are still unable to reopen, due to lock-down rules.
Cllr Ferguson said: “The residents of St Neots have a simple choice, either we back our locally-owned businesses now, by choosing to spend our money with them, or face up to a future without them.
“In the past couple of months we’ve all had to get used to a deserted high street, full of empty shops. Unless we act now, by supporting independent retailers, many of these businesses might never open their doors again, reducing our beloved town-centre to a virtual ghost town populated only by a small number of national chains.
“This is what communities do - support each other in times of crisis. I’m pledging to spend more of my own money in St Neots, and I implore other residents to do the same. Choose quality over the convenience, choose St Neots over faceless out-of-town retail parks and online stores.”
One local business owner told The Hunts Post he felt some people were under the misconception that independent businesses had been supported fully through local authority grants.
Trevor Baldwin, who runs the Old School Strength & Conditioning, in Levellers Lane, St Neots, said: “Small business owners have been forgotten about. Yes we have had a grant, but we still have to pay full rent and other bills, and many of us have families to support with zero income and no way of making a living.
“We were struggling before the full lock-down as people became nervous about using gyms so this is going to be months of reduced or no income for us. The worst thing is not being able to plan.”
Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) which collects rents from some small businesses says it has been working with its commercial tenants to support them through the financial difficulties posed by the pandemic.
A spokesperson said: “We have proactively reached out to have detailed conversations with individual tenants regarding rent payment schedules. Rental income from HDC’s commercial estate is used to fund the council’s vital front-line services across the district. Any significant reduction in this generated income could cause knock-on effects to the services that are currently more in demand and relied upon by residents across Huntingdonshire. Our sympathies are with businesses across
Huntingdonshire and we will continue to do all that we can to provide support.”
Here is the open letter to local people:
Dear Residents of St Neots,
“We would like to thank you for the exceptional way that our community has come together in response to this pandemic. Without your diligence, sacrifice, and mutual support, the terrible consequences of this virus would have been much worse.
However, the crisis is not yet over, and without your continued support, there will continue to be hard times ahead.
“The harsh reality is that, even in the face of generous support from national and local government, the financial consequences of this crisis are likely to have a severe and ongoing impact on local businesses. Unless we all take immediate action, there is a genuine risk that many of these businesses will never reopen their doors again.
“We understand that these are difficult times for many and that lots of people are struggling financially as a result of this crisis. However, when making buying decisions, we implore you to please consider spending whatever money you can afford with locally-owned St Neots businesses.
“Every pound that you spend in St Neots helps save a local business from closure and supports the families of their owners and all of their employees.
“If we all commit to spending more of our money in St Neots, not just in the next few days, but in the weeks, months, and even years to come, then our town and our high street can emerge from this crisis stronger than ever before. Please shop locally.”