Small Business Saturday this weekend is a thriving global campaign now in its tenth year here in the UK.

It is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate and champion thousands of small businesses that underpin and shape our economy nationally and here in East Hampshire.

I’m looking forward to joining a special event at Winton House in Petersfield, that will bring local microbusinesses to the High Street for the day.

Petersfield’s Small Business Fair will be an opportunity to meet and talk with a range of small enterprises – from many different sectors – and find out about their services.

Supporting high streets and local traders is a vital way to ensure our town centres are vibrant, and to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurship; both important for economic growth.

Innovation is at the heart of that ambition, including new initiatives like Help to Grow and Made Smarter.

Help to Grow offers free, impartial online support on how digital technology can boost business performance, a management course that helps develop bespoke business growth plans, and gives one-to-one support.

Made Smarter helps manufacturers to adopt technology that make businesses faster, more responsive and efficient.

The autumn statement also increased public spending on R&D to £20bn a year by 2024/5, and Innovate UK programmes funding to hit £2.6bn over the spending review period.

And the Annual Investment Allowance has been set at its highest permanent level of £1m, so more businesses can write off the cost of qualifying plant machinery.

These important measures encourage both enterprise and investment, and especially in key sectors like life sciences, financial services, AI and data.

But not every business operates in a hi-tech environment, and there will also be targeted support for traders worth £13.6bn over five years.

This includes freezing of business rates mulitpliers, supporting all ratepayers, large and small, and the Transitional Relief Scheme to cap bill increases caused by next year’s changes in rateable values.

And business rates relief for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure businesses is increasing from 50 per cent to 75 per cent up to £110,000 a business in 2023-24.

The rise in energy costs has had an impact on businesses and organisations, and the Energy Bill Relief Scheme has been welcomed by many.

Although it will be reviewed next year, it will focus on identifying vulnerable non-domestic customers and supporting them going forward.

People are at the heart of businesses, and ensuring they have the right skills is essential.

We need to ensure the education system provides skills employers need, for example through T-Levels, higher technical qualifications, skills bootcamps and apprenticeships.

This week I joined in a celebration of the first T-Level graduates and met Hampshire employers, and representatives of the HSDC college group, which has a campus in Alton.

Upskilling is also important, and the introduction of the Lifelong Loan Entitlement in 2025 to provide more flexible finance for adults to study is valuable.

Starting a new venture is both daunting and exciting, and takes a particular sense of purpose and confidence to achieve.

So I would encourage everyone to take time on Small Business Saturday to consider how they can best support local traders, which helps support our local economy and our local communities.