The run up to Christmas is always an important time for small businesses in Ipswich, but it feels especially crucial this year.

It has been an incredibly challenging period for many, with a combination of inflationary pressures and the unabating cost of living crisis creating a very difficult environment.

Considering that backdrop, it was really encouraging to see so many people supporting small and independent businesses at the Saints Festive Street Market last weekend.

Tomorrow’s Small Business Saturday is another opportunity to visit our fantastic local shops and eateries across town too as we head towards Christmas.

With the era of big department stores coming to a close, and more people visiting out-of-town retail parks or shopping online, we have to reimagine what we want the future to look like.

In my view, it will be our events and exhibitions offering, combined with a thriving array of small and independent businesses, which will help revive our town centre, and make Ipswich a real destination once again.

Some of this is already happening. There are already regular events and activities across our diverse range of spaces and venues, including the Cornhill, the Waterfront and our award-winning parks. SPILL Festival’s recent ‘Monumental Constructions’ filled people with joy and wonder.

Brighten the Corners is fast re-establishing Ipswich’s music scene, with each unique venue attracting new bands - and people - to Ipswich.

The Wolsey 550 is reconnecting the town with its heritage, while providing a catalyst for the future. And from Christchurch Mansion to the New Wolsey Theatre, DanceEast to the Regent, there are so many reasons to be cheerful.

When it comes to retail, ‘the Saints’ shows us what’s possible in Ipswich, and there are many other great shops and eateries dotted around the town.

However, there remain too many empty units, and while Ipswich’s town centre is by no means alone in going through a challenging period, we have to recognise that, alongside talking Ipswich up, we have to deliver real change too.

That’s why Labour’s plan for small business is so significant. While small businesses are the beating heart of our economy, breathing life into our high streets, and delivering services that make our lives easier, they have been badly neglected by the Conservatives over the last 13 years.

In contrast, a future Labour government will hardwire the voice of small business into everything we do.

I have written in these pages before about some of the things Labour would do to help revive our high streets, and earlier this week, Jonathan Reynolds, the Shadow Business Secretary, expanded on this policy offer: legislate to tackle late payments, unlocking £20 billion in unpaid invoices.

Scrap business rates, and replace it with a system that is fairer for bricks and mortar businesses. Tackle anti-social behaviour by introducing new town centre police patrols and give councils powers to take over empty shops.

Labour will go further in supporting SMEs more widely too: boost small business exports by removing trading barriers and deliver clear information and support. Offer a new direction for skills by connecting Technical Excellence Colleges to local economic needs.

Get Britain building again by speeding up the planning system and unblocking the grid and make our country a clean energy superpower, to secure cheaper bills and greater energy security, and turbocharge opportunities for small builders and tradespeople.

Establish Britain as the best place to start-up and scale-up, providing better access to finance and more spinouts from universities. Ensure SMEs are given a fair chance to bid for public contracts.

Labour’s plan for small business will get our high streets back on their feet, and restore growth, ambition and opportunity right across our local economy too. It’s a plan to help Ipswich fulfil its immense potential. Let’s put it into action.