Published: Friday, 4 December 2020

Oxford City Council is encouraging residents to make the most of this year’s Small Business Saturday by shopping locally.

Small Business Saturday, which highlight small business success and encourages consumers to shop local, takes place tomorrow (5 December).

The awareness day coincides with the City Council and Oxfordshire County Council supporting businesses by launching free parking during December at Oxford’s five park and rides.

The City Council has provided a significant amount of support for small businesses throughout the last 12 months, including facilitating millions of pounds of grants, a wide range of promotion, and investing in ways to nurture new start-ups.

Encouragingly, 16 businesses have opened – or announced plans to do so – in previously vacant units either in the city centre or in Oxford’s local shopping areas since 11 October. The majority of those are small businesses, many of them based locally.

The City Council understands that a number of other lettings are in the pipeline for the weeks and months ahead.

Small businesses in Oxford

Oxford has 4,710 SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) – and 85% of the city’s businesses are micro-businesses, with nine employees or fewer.

In total, 87.7% of Oxford’s economy is powered by SMEs, with SMEs responsible for £5.7bn of the city’s £6.5bn annual turnover.

Although the number of new businesses starting in Oxford has grown from a low of 59 in 2012 to 139 in 2018, the proportion of Oxford’s businesses that are SMEs is lower than for the whole of Oxfordshire (89%) and the average of the South East (90%).   

It is thought that the main reason for the lower number of small businesses is the lack of workspace for start-ups in the city.

Facilitating grants for businesses

The City Council has now facilitated £27.3m of Government grants to almost 2,600 businesses in Oxford to support them through the coronavirus pandemic during 2020.

This has included more than £6.7m to 672 small businesses that applied for the Small Business Grant Fund, and a further £2.6m to 260 small businesses that applied for the Retail, Leisure & Hospitality Grants Fund.

On top of this, the City Council has facilitated more than £57m of rates relief to business in Oxford – including small businesses – throughout the pandemic.

Campaigns to promote small businesses

The City Council has been promoting businesses throughout the year to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

This work has included:

  • A summer campaign, in partnership with the Oxford Mail, to encourage people to ‘Rediscover Oxford’ after the end of the first lockdown
  • A winter campaign, in partnership with Experience Oxfordshire, Independent Oxford and The Oxford Time, to encourage residents to do their Christmas shopping with local traders

Both campaigns focussed on small businesses, particularly Covered Market traders. Small business owners were provided with free advertising space in the Oxford Mail, and were made the faces of social media films, digital adverts, and advertising in bus shelter poster sites.

As part of the Christmas campaign, Independent Oxford – which works to support, promote and champion independent businesses in Oxford and Oxfordshire – has created a map showcasing independent shops in the city centre.

Supporting businesses through the pandemic

The City Council has been working hard since the summer to help businesses recover from the first lockdown.

This work has included:

  • Pedestrianising areas of the city centre to provide cafes, pubs and restaurants with outdoor seating areas. This supported businesses that needed additional space to be able to operate on a commercial basis whilst maintaining social distancing
  • To facilitate longer opening hours in the run-up to Christmas, the City Council has extended the operating hours of street cleaners and public toilets. The aim is to support businesses to open later to maximise revenue in the crucial Christmas trading period

Throughout the year, the City Council has been in regular contact with businesses across Oxford to provide them with the latest Government information and guidance, and to help them apply for the latest grants or meet the latest rules.

Supporting small retailers of the future

The City Council is aiming to support more independent retailers to open in Oxford, particularly through the creation of a market quarter around the Covered Market.

This is being carried out in a number of ways, including working with Jesus College to provide smaller units in the redeveloped Northgate House, and by splitting existing units in the Covered Market to create opportunities for smaller traders.

The City Council’s overall aim is to create a pipeline of new shops, with opportunities for entrepreneurs to expand from a Gloucester Green Market stall, through the Covered Market to a high street unit.

Supporting entrepreneurs of the future

The City Council is also aiming to tackle the undersupply of workspace and office space, particularly for start-ups, in Oxford city centre.

Short term, the City Council is looking to redevelop property in George Street and Cave Street to create flexible workspace for start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Longer term, the City Council is working with the University of Oxford and individual colleges to redevelop the west end of the city – including Oxpens and Osney Mead Industrial Estate – to create more workspaces.

The City Council is particularly interested in encouraging high-tech start-up businesses to be created by graduates of Oxford’s two universities – similar to the relationship between Stanford University and Silicon Valley in the US.

The City Council is working with the University of Oxford and St John’s College to create start-up space for university spin-outs at the Osney Mead and Oxford North developments.

“One of the best ways to create a vibrant economy is to increase the number of start-ups and small businesses, and nurture these to grow. Morris started in a small workshop, and Oxford’s large employers of the future will as well.

“Oxford City Council is carrying out a wide range of short-term and long-term investments to ensure that Oxford’s small businesses survive the pandemic, and that small businesses in Oxford thrive as part of a global hub of high-tech start-ups in the future.

“But Oxford residents can help as well. This Small Business Saturday, please consider supporting small businesses in Oxford and buying your Christmas presents in Oxford city centre.”

Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council

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