Candidates clash at business hustings

Election 2015

Election 2015 - Credit: Archant

Superfast broadband, tax avoidance and the state of Devon’s roads were up for debate as parliamentary hopefuls fought to win over business representatives.

Small enterprises were recognised as the ‘life blood of our society’ by East Devon’s election candidates, who faced members of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Sidmouth’s Kennaway House last Friday.

The panel included: Conservative MP Hugo Swire, Labour’s Steve Race; Andrew Chapman, UKIP; Brian Toye, who stood in for Liberal Democrat Stuart Mole; and independent Claire Wright.

Devon’s damaged roads and the impact on rural businesses, descended into a blame game among candidates.

Mr Race launched an attack on what he called the Government’s ‘failed economic plan’, blaming budget cuts.

The Conservatives’ failure to make ‘big corporate companies pay a fair proportion of tax’ came under fire from both Mr Race and Mrs Wright, who said addressing this would make up the majority of the £90billion deficit.

Mrs Wright said: “Big corporate giants are legally avoiding tax at a huge cost to the country.”

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She also called the proposed closure of some of East Devon’s small roads, because they are so badly damaged, a ‘retrograde step’.

Mr Chapman holds the European Union (EU) – which he says determines the size of Britain’s lorries - accountable for damaged roads.

He said Britain needs to control its own regulations and called for withdrawal from what he called an ‘uncompetitive, undemocratic and inefficient’ organisation.

“It is the first time I have heard pot holes being blamed on the EU,” said Mr Swire.

He added that it is better to close smaller roads and keep the main routes running and also spoke of the importance of rail and airport links to the South West.

Mr Toye put up a strong argument for the importance of superfast broadband in rural areas and suggested this is prioritised as a planning regulation requirement.

Mrs Wright and Mr Swire were in rare agreement that the rollout of superfast broadband is progressing well and set to cover the vast majority of East Devon by early next year.

Mr Swire also faced accusations that the Tory Government had prioritised spending in areas that have little or no impact on East Devon, such as the High Speed Railway (HS2) between London and Manchester.

He said: “I do not take the choice that it’s HS2 or broadband.”

Mr Race spoke out in defence of entrepreneurial spirit, in response to criticism from a member of the audience, who suggested people start businesses without enough relevant experience.

He added that enterprising people should be encouraged and supported, pointing out that Facebook’s founder did not have previous experience before going on to run a hugely successful company.

There was unanimous agreement from candidates that East Devon District Council’s relocation from its Knowle offices in Sidmouth should not have been pushed ahead before the election on May 7.