WE have a record number of small business in the UK, now at 5.5 million.

These are the shops on our local high streets who have changed the face of the community, making it more diverse and unique; often going above and beyond to deliver a first class service.

They know what makes our communities tick.

They can be shops that provide life's essentials or unique gift shops, or inventors and innovators fuelling growth in our region and they deserve to be celebrated.

For every £1 spent with a small or medium-sized business, 63p is re-spent in the local area, compared to 40p in every pound spent with a chain or larger business.

I have loved doing my Small Business Awards for the past three years and it never fails to surprise me.

I've discovered you can pop to Kidlington for a chameleon at Evolution Reptiles, or to Farmoor for some authentic South African food and drink at Taste of South Africa – a store after my own heart!

I've explored the different areas across my constituency supporting independent shops, from delicious hand-baked cakes at Patisserie Pascal in Abingdon to rave reviews for Excel Dry Cleaners in Summertown to a prime cut of beef at AJ Brock in Botley.

I would urge all readers to nominate their favourite shop through my website or with a nomination form in store so we can raise awareness as well as celebrating their success.

It’s clear that our small businesses have so much to offer, and we should be supporting them not just on Small Business Saturday or at Christmas time but all year round.

And of course the Government has a key role to play, that’s why it’s encouraging to see action taken to address issues affecting small businesses the most.

Take for example delayed payments from larger companies to smaller ones: from April next year new rules coming in to force will require large firms to provide public reports on their payment practices and performance and, further still, a Small Business Commissioner will soon be appointed to tackle supply chain issues.

We also now have the joint lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20 and the Employment Allowance helps businesses to take on staff by reducing the national insurance burden.

Ultimately it is the consumer who helps small and independent business to thrive and in turn boosting the local economy.

So as you’re out doing your Christmas shopping this weekend don’t forget to support local small businesses and find that hidden gem you can brag to your friends about, do your bit to support Oxfordshire’s independent shops during the crucial Christmas period.