Red tape is strangling the high street

The government has done nothing to help small businesses to survive.

In August, an apparently successful chocolate shop in Wilmslow, Cheshire, closed down. Despite taking £4,000 a week, the owner, Simon Dunn, couldn't make ends meet. Poignantly, he posted an open letter in his window explaining to customers why he was being forced out of business.

"It is with great sadness I have had to cease trading from this wonderful shop. Why, you may wonder, as it was so busy, popular and good?"

The answer: it wasn't a going concern. "Sales in a good week £4,000. VAT £800. Rent and rates £1,000. Chocolate, coffee, milk, bread, packaging etc, £800. Wages £1,300. Total £3,900. Nothing left for me and I'm the one running round trying to keep it ticking over, lying awake at night trying to work out how to increase sales..."

This shop wasn't in some inner-city precinct it was in an affluent part of Cheshire. It's much the same in affluent Notting Hill. In The Daily Telegraph last weekend Damian Thompson recounted how he "popped out" to his local, Asian-run convenience store for a pint of milk only to be "greeted by the sight of its owners hastily and angrily throwing things into the back of a lorry". Every shelf was being emptied.

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So, was this finally there had been crises before the end of the shop? "Yes, finished," said the proprietor. "I have spent thousands on lawyers but" and his voice tailed off.

"This is a shop I have visited roughly five times a week for 14 years, so that's maybe 3,500 times," says Thompson. "What was it called? I've no idea. There must be something written above the door, but all I can remember is the pink neon sign saying Food and Wines'."

It may be that this particular store was doomed anyway perhaps it wasn't catering well enough for its Notting Hill clientele. But it's a reminder, as is the closure of Dunn's chocolate shop, of what a struggle it is to survive in the high street these days.

And as Richard Littlejohn has argued in the Daily Mail, the Tory-led coalition has done precious little to help small businesses. Instead, small enterprises of every kind continue to be "bled dry by government at every level and burdened with costly, useless regulation imposed from Westminster and Europe".

A champion of the working mum

I enjoyed Gwyneth Paltrow's robust defence of working mothers. No one has the right to tell them how much time they should spend with their children, she told the December edition of Red magazine.

Agreeing with her in The Daily Telegraph, Judith Woods said she had never used the phrase "the children are my absolute priority" and never will. She shrinks in horror from the "hideous sanctimoniousness" of the expression.

"The modern vogue for child-centrism, as lamented by Tory MP Rory Stewart recently where little Gazebo mustn't be bored and darling Mortadella has to have a new Cambridge school satchel every term infuriates me I fully support mothers who stay at home and mothers who go out to work: we're all mothers in it together, especially me 'n' Gwyneth."

Tabloid money: Gordon forgets he's an MP, but still claims expenses

How sickening it has been "to watch Labour MPs trying to defend Unite's totally indefensible leverage' tactics at Grangemouth", says Carole Malone in the Sunday Mirror. "Tactics which involved baying mobs descending on the homes of oil refinery executives with the effect of intimidating their wives and children... But the mob didn't stop at just intimidating them. It went to surrounding houses telling neighbours how evil they were.No, what's evil is a union boss who sanctions this kind of bullying."

Len McCluskey insists that the bully-boy tactics were justified and it's "obscene to hear MPs like Diane Abbott who would be the first to kick up if her precious son was targeted say that as long as what they did was legal, it's OK. Well, it very definitely isn't OK."

Nor would it be OK if a baying mob "pitched up at Ed Miliband's front door and told him if he didn't change his policies his kids would be taunted and screamed at" though it would be legal. "So why hasn't Miliband properly condemned these bully-boy squads? Ah yes he needs their money."

"At an education summit in Qatar, Gordon Brown appeared to forget that he was still an MP," says Andrew Pierce in the Daily Mail. "Asked his views as a politician', he interjected to say ex-politician'. He might have forgotten that he is the MP for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, but he never forgets to claim his expenses."

Brown has spoken only three times in the Commons since he stood down as PM three and a half years ago, "and has taken part in fewer than 14% of the votes". Yet he claimed more than £316,000 in personal expenses and salary over the same period.

"The expenses are paid for items such as petrol, air fares and water bills... The same £316,000 could have paid for any of the following: eight teachers; three doctors, seven police officers; 60 hip replacements; 75 primary school places. I wonder which his constituents think represents best value for money?"