On Wednesday 1 April, businesses from Combe Martin, Ilfracombe and Woolacombe met to raise the issues they want candidates in the forthcoming town/parish, district and national elections to address.
Below is a summary of the issues raised and some of the points made. There was a full discussion with different views expressed on issues. As can be imagined, time ran out and these are just some of the issues affecting businesses and comments made.
COMBEbusiness requests local candidates and parties to consider these questions and respond as to how they will address them.
If you encounter a candidate, ask them about any of the issues below.
Update: Responses from candidates
We will add more responses as we receive them.
Response: national. Although councillors should be more aware of this.
A comprehensive review of VAT and how it is applied to businesses is requested due to seasonal businesses deliberately closing to avoid crossing the VAT registration threshold. Businesses reaching the threshold have to start applying VAT, where applicable, to goods/services they supply. This can mean increasing prices by up to 20% or absorbing the 20% themselves.
An example of this is bed and breakfast establishments that block off accommodation in high season. It is paradoxical that the business community is working hard to attract more visitors to the area only for some businesses having to turn down this extra custom. It is also likely that some business transactions are not being recorded for tax so that they do not count towards the threshold. The present VAT regime is limiting the growth of the economy.
Suggestions included a lower rate of VAT for new businesses or certain sectors and extending VAT to all businesses so there is a level playing field. There was also a call for a friendlier regime for small entrepreneurs, balancing efficient collection of taxes with a fairer system.
Topic: Business rates
Response: national and local
A fairer system was called for as the present system is levied on a small base of businesses that occupy business premises. The tax is calculated on the property and does not take into account either business turnover or profit. Also it does not take account of businesses that can operate from any location, such as a desk at home or a laptop on the move.
One suggestion was for a profit-related tax.
Topic: Bus services
Response: local and national
As bus routes are being cut back, councils expect community transport groups to pick up the slack, but are themselves cutting funding to these groups. For example, Ilfracombe and District Community Transport is running an evening service to/from Woolacombe for seasonal workers who need to travel to/from work but donâ€™t have their own transport. How can these groups continue without funding?
There was also concern that councils are not overseeing the management of bus routes effectively with evening buses frequently seen to be running empty while residents in small settlements have no services at all.
It was felt that councils should be doing more to encourage travel on services, eg effective marketing, and conducting higher quality market research into residentsâ€™ travel requirements. Perhaps funding/management of rural bus services should be reassessedÂ at a national level too.
Topic: Business support and funding
Response: national and local
Concern was expressed at how councils and public sector agencies spend funding and provide support. One example was for a work hub in Ilfracombe. It was felt that business support provided regionally, such as previous Business Link support from Bristol and now GAIN in Plymouth, is not designed with the specific needs of this area in mind and provides untargetted generic support of limited value. There was also widespread concern aboutÂ the effectiveness of funding channelled through North Devon+. Keeping up with a raft of initiatives and funding schemes is difficult for businesses and agencies need to improve their communications.
The feeling was that business support should be designed from the bottom up to answer the specific needs of the local business community rather than those of agencies.
- North Devon Council must support the North Devon Marketing Bureau – it is a sensible economic decision which will generate more income through theatres, museums, car parking, etc.
- An M5 brown road sign to advertise â€˜Junction 27 for North Devon and Exmoorâ€™
- What more will a newly elected MP do to raise national awareness of the North Devon business community?
- What more will MP/councils do to encourage inward private sector investment?
- More marketing of North Devon at regional hubs
There was concern over the cost and enforcing of parking with especial concern over the aggressive attitude not only of car parking enforcement officers but also of North Devon Council when residents contact it about parking.
- Assess whether current charging levels are suitable as a business opportunity.
- Introduce a single ticket that can be used in multiple car parks.
- Look at introducing flat-rate charging.
- For councils to improve the behaviour of their employees to the public and change the perception of people who see Ilfracombe as a place where parking attendants are rude.
These questions are vital for the area as a tourism destination.
Response: local and national
A specific request was made about litter collection in Woolacombe after a busy day and that the council services do not meet the demands of a tourism area.
There were also general comments about dog fouling, litter dropped by families/groups and problems caused by seagulls.
Plus more comments about maintaining cleanliness of road signs.
A number of business people said that they already took action to clean/maintain signs, pick up litter etc, but there was concern about public liability and health and safety concerns from government/councils. It was felt that there is a need for light touch regulation to enable the public to take responsibility for minor tasks in their area.
There was also an expression that there should be more education of children regarding litter in schools.
- What more will politicians at all levels do to increaseÂ citizen involvement in maintaining the environment?
- A national guide is needed so citizens are clear on how they can help.
This was the extent of the issues raised after a full evening of discussion. There are, no doubt, many more issues.
COMBEbusiness looks forward to receiving responses from candidates in the forthcoming elections at both a national and local level responding to the questions raised above.
Responses can be made toÂ .
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this debate.