It was good to see that small businesses were given a helping hand in the Budget this week.

Any further adjustment of business rates needs to be approached in much the same way as the taxation of internet sales platforms appears to have been, in that the calculation of business rates needs to better reflect the retail and commercial world as it is today (with competition from online and out-of-town centres) and create a more level and even playing field.

The potential for providing additional resources to local councils to improve town centres is welcome and we look forward to hearing just how Cherwell District and/or Oxfordshire County councils will creatively approach this opportunity.

Bicester’s town centre has fared well compared to many others of a similar size. We have a lower percentage of empty units than many towns, we have retained branches of all four of the ‘big’ banks and seen around £70m invested in delivering the Pioneer Square and Franklins House areas, including the VUE Cinema.

That many ‘shops’ are now occupied by service providers and purveyors of leisure activities – such as coffee shops and restaurants – rather than actual goods, is a sign of the growing shift to buying online and in one-stop locations. The percentage of voids is now back down to somewhere near what it was before work started on Pioneer Square and hopefully it will continue to improve.

Moving away from town centre matters in early October the chamber held their annual general meeting in PERCH Co-Working in Bicester. This is an amazing place for those who are looking to step away from working at home to take space and grow their businesses. At the AGM it was announced that the chamber will be joint venturing with Bicester Vision in order that both have a greater voice for local business matters. This is an exciting step forward and means that the chamber is now the true access point for smaller businesses that feel membership of Bicester Vision is out of their reach.

Also at the AGM we said ‘goodbye’ to our president Ben Jackson as he stepped out of the role he has held for many years, after equally many years as chairman previously. Ben has also stepped down from the executive committee of the chamber. Ben observed that in leadership it is always hard to time stepping out from a role to suit all concerned and he had given the executive some months’ notice of his intentions.

More can be found out about the chamber at and we welcome enquiries to join and help us in being a voice for businesses in the town.