• Friday, February 23, 2024

Business

Amid rising costs, Asian small businesses fear a bleak future

Shoppers walk past food and vegetable stalls at a market in east London on February 20, 2023. British retail sales rebounded surprisingly in January on falling fuel costs and discounting by online and physical stores, official data showed Friday. At the same time, food sales dropped 0.5 percent, the ONS said, following large price rises over the past year. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

By: Nadeem Badshah

ASIAN small business owners have accused council leaders of a lack of support to help them deal with rising costs and bills.

Entrepreneurs said energy prices, the cost of goods they sell, and local regeneration projects were among the biggest challenges they have faced in 2023 as Small Business Day was marked last Saturday (2).

Recent research found nearly three quarters of small firms said they are merely surviving, rather than thriving.

And fewer than a third have enough cash to keep their businesses afloat for more than six months, while 58 per cent have not invested in their business in the past year because of economic instability, according to the SME State of the Nation Roundtable Report supported by NatWest Business.

Usman Younas, who runs Watan Supermarket in Bradford, Yorkshire, said mainly clothing and retail grocery stores in the area have been affected.

He told Eastern Eye: “The biggest challenge is the lack of support from external bodies since Covid and rising energy costs. There was some relief, but they didn’t extend any support.

“A lot of businesses here did not survive; the majority will go in the new year without regular cashflow.

“We are the lifeline of the economy – I employ 16 people; if things go bad, we will all be out of work, including myself.

“There’s been a slight relief in business rates, but if you’re in arrears there is still pressure – I have a £10k electricity bill coming in December.”

Jaffer A Kapasi OBE, who runs an accountant and business advisory company in the East Midlands, said the small and medium-sized enterprises sector, which represent 99 per cent of all businesses in the EU, is also the backbone of the UK economy. He told Eastern Eye: “The cost of running a business is a ticking time bomb with the increase in rates and huge increase in energy bills.

“Businesses are not able to increase their margins in line with costs incurred, resulting in less profitability to sustain high wages costs to comply. Higher inflation rates remain, and such issues result in less confidence for consumers.”

Regeneration in parts of the country have also been cited as a potential threat to local shops and market stalls.

In East London, campaigners are battling to save the historic Queen’s Market.

The council plans to develop the market in Upton Park with a new health centre, library, community centre and homes. Asian stall owners have voiced concerns over the proposals.

Ashok Kaul, who runs G&A Haberdashery, said: “People don’t come to small markets.

“They want go to a place where there are a number of businesses, and each business has a lot of goods for sale.”

In response to the criticism, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz OBE told Eastern Eye: “Since we announced our plans back in 2019, we have made it clear that the Queens Market is here to stay because we know it is a lifeline for so many of our residents to access affordable, nutritious and healthy fresh food and other goods.

“We want the market to be a thriving part of our local economy in Newham which will support local traders, small businesses and create jobs.

“It’s part of our Community Wealth Building agenda that we’ve been driving at the Council for the past five years and officers at the council regularly meet the traders association to keep them updated on progress on plans.

“With hundreds of local residents, they have been involved in shaping plans and providing feedback on our £7.3 million investment plans for the future of the market and the neighbouring Hamara Ghar sheltered housing provision.

“It’s all part of a £13 million investment that we are making in Queen’s Market and the surrounding area of Green Street which is a famous destination across London for residents and visitors who head to the area for the delectable array of south Asian food products, wonderful fashion items and goods.”

The council is expected to make a decision on its preferred option for the market in early 2024.

Bradford Council said through the Invest in Bradford service, it offers support and advice to all businesses across the district. A spokesperson added: “This support includes providing guidance on statutory requirements (including planning, environmental health, sale of goods act, employment of staff ) as well as business advice (including business planning, cash flow forecast, taxation/ VAT compliance).

“Where applicable and appropriate, this support can be given in the language of the business, including for example Bengali, Gujrati, Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.

“Businesses facing issues dealing with rising business costs are encouraged and helped to look at all operational efficiencies including sourcing of goods, services, as well as operational costs. Information is also provided about any financial support including grants that are available.”

The council added it promoted Small Business Saturday with leaflets to small businesses on high streets as well as market traders across the district about the support and advice they can access from the Invest in Bradford team.

The economic downturn has led to some south Asian entrepreneurs opening businesses in the European Union.

In the year ending December 2022 approximately 557,000 people emigrated from the UK, 92,000 of whom were British citizens and a further 263,000 were nonEU citizens. Dozens of Bangladesh-born people have opened shops selling souvenirs outside landmarks such as the 17th century The Clérigos church in Porto, Portugal, and in the Italian capital of Rome.

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