Today the party leaders set out their stall for the election campaign ahead. On Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours talking with business owners based around the Market Square in Hemel.
Many of the businesses there are long established, in one case for over three decades; others are newer, with one yet to reach its first anniversary. But they spoke with common themes - a lack of information about the work going on around them and a lack of consultation about what the plans entail. To quote one long-standing shopkeeper:
"I've been here for thirty years. I know they have plans for the area but they've not kept us in the picture. If I've got to relocate, I will, but nobody is telling us anything. We're just in limbo."
In an echo of the recent remodelling of the Old Town - where the way in which the work was carried out drove out of business some of the very shops that were the intended beneficiaries - our supposedly business-friendly Conservative council has thoughtlessly located the builder's yard for the work in the middle of Market Square. Might it not have negotiated with the Health Trust to base the yard on the unused hospital land barely a stone's throw away?
Just for good measure the Council has also chosen the same time to shift the antiques market and close the bus stand. In short, a triple whammy for the businesses that gives shoppers three Council-made reasons not to visit the Square.
These business owners want and need Hemel to succeed, they want to put the Heart Back into Hemel but they need to be engaged and listened to and, if their business has to be disrupted, relief against Business Rates should reflect this. One told us about how Council red tape had thwarted his proposal for a French and German Winter Market in the Square - it's an excellent idea and one that Labour will be pursuing if we are elected in May.
At present the area around Market Square and the old Pavilion site is being allowed to simply waste away, as it has been for more than a decade. The Tories have had nearly a generation in control at the Council and our Conservative MP has been in post for a decade; they've wasted opportunity after opportunity and broken promise after promise. And Saturday confirmed one other thing - they've done so while completely ignoring those they claim to champion - local businesses and local entrepreneurs.
Labour Parliamentary Candidate and former charity CEO, Tony Breslin in one of Hemel’s charity shops: we owe a debt of gratitude to all who work or volunteer in third sector organisations such as charities and community organisations, and we’re lucky enough to have a vibrant third sector in Hemel.
Tony with Kiran Patel, proprietor of long-established Market Square newsagent News Box
Tony with Bill Higgins, who manages Hemel Lock Centre in Market Square
Tony starts election year with a campaign trim from Salih Kolcak at King’s Barber Salon in Market Square
Steph Khan, proprietor of Market Square’s Uneak Boutique, with Tony