Last Friday’s meeting (13th October) covered a wide range of business topics and led to some interesting discussions.
Nus began by giving us a brief summary of the work she has done since being elected as our Member of Parliament in 2015. This included her work to promote the needs of the constituency, particularly relating to the problems of Southern trains, as well as the issues of good broadband and mobile signal coverage of rural areas.
She also encouraged nominations of the Rose & Crown, where we were meeting, for the Parliamentary Pub Chef award. Pubs, in her opinion, can and should be vital centres of the community and have the potential to be used for many functions – the MBF meeting being an example of just one of them.
The MBF presented the results of a survey carried out among members to show the issues that they considered currently to be the most important, as shown in the graphic below.
The discussions then centered on 5 areas where MBF members had specific comments or questions for Nus:
1. Connectivity (broadband and mobile)
David Wilson followed up on what Nus had already said in her introduction about the lack of mobile and broadband connectivity in some rural areas. He stressed how this could cause major problems in setting up, running and expanding local businesses.
On the question of mobile coverage, there had been objections to the recent proposal to build a new mast just outside Mayfield. However it was stressed to Nus that the local businesses, Mayfield & Five Ashes Parish Council and many residents were in favour of a new mast but objected to the proposed siting. Alternative sites had been suggested and there was frustration that the company wanting to build the mast had not been willing to meet locals to discuss alternatives and explain the constraints on possible sites.
As for broadband, the concern was that the promised 98% coverage of high-speed broadband left 2% with uncertain coverage. This 2% will be heavily concentrated in rural areas. So Mayfield and Five Ashes will have a much larger proportion of poorly served premises and households, primarily those located at some distance from our exchange. It was suggested that broadband coverage needs to be universally available at a reasonable cost, even if this means some subsidies for more remote areas.
Nus suggested that MBF should write as a group to operators and Wealden District. This would have more impact than individual letters. She also said that if we wrote to her, she would pass on our comments.
Nus had mentioned in her introduction that her postbag was split between those favouring Brexit and those against it, and the questions from MBF members reflected the same split. One asked why she had voted for Brexit and Nus set out very clearly why she favoured Brexit as a way for the UK to be able to make agreements with countries all over the world rather than being limited to favouring just the EU in terms of trade, immigration and other matters.
She believed that we would inevitably have 18 months of ups and downs during the negotiation process and that we should not be too influenced by daily reports of the latest problems. However, the meeting expressed concern about the seeming conflicting visions coming from the government. Paul Adams strongly set out the view that there needed to be a different mindset in parliament and that the government needed to work with the opposition to produce the best result.
3. Ashdown Forest and the building embargo
Karenna Wilford raised the question of resolving the issue of the Ashdown Forest zone of influence, which is causing Wealden District Council to block planning permissions that might increase traffic; this has a major impact on business expansion and on recruitment of staff.
Nus explained that she also found it frustrating. However, Wealden were trying to abide by EU regulations, although Mid Sussex District had a different interpretation, which seems to weakens Wealden’s argument. It may require a change to regulations, although Wealden are reviewing the evidence.
The questions on this topic were to do with the availability and reliability of public transport, especially Southern trains to London, and on improving road infrastructure.
Nus has been putting pressure on both sides of the rail dispute which is so badly affecting the Uckfield to London line, among others, and is asking the government to review the franchise if services continue to be unacceptable.
On the subject of road infrastructure, Nus said she was realistic about what a county the size and position of East Sussex could expect to obtain in the way of funding. Therefore she was working with other local MPs to focus on one or two major projects at a time – and she was delghted that funding for works on the A27 had just been approved. Also there is now a government proposal to electrify the Uckfield line and she is working to make sure this goes through.
5. Tax and Regulation
Chris Lilly explained how the current VAT threshold could be a big disadvantage to those selling high value items to consumers at moderate margins. Such businesses could reach the threshold without generating a large amount of gross profit and then had to put up their prices to include VAT, which could put them at a major disadvantage to other sellers. Chris proposed a doubling of the VAT threshold.
Chris also suggested that corporation tax should be reduced to 12.5%. Nus requested that the MBF write to her with details and justification of these two proposals and she could then represent the views to the Treasury.
Ian Parker, who works in commercial leasing, explained how increased regulation had made it necessary for him to join a larger firm rather than build his own business. Nus said she would like to know what specific regulations were the problems and asked Ian to send her details. If they were UK regulations, rather than EU ones, then she could take up his case with the relevant department.
Nus was thanked for making some of her valuable and busy time available for the meeting and for the her answers to our questions. Roger Stone and Chris Lilly agreed to follow up on the actions taken at the meeting. Nus concluded by inviting the MBF to visit her at the House of Commons next year, maybe in May or June,