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  • Writer's pictureJane Brook

General Election – Rye Chamber Membership top 10 questions for our constituency candidates.


We asked, they answered.


We had hoped to meet with each of our candidates in the run up to the election to discuss their policy objectives for small businesses, however campaign schedules rendered that almost impossible so our B plan was to produce a list of business focused questions for them all to answer. Our questions challenged them for specific responses on a variety of issues that are top of your lists when it comes to running a business in the town in the current climate. We put them to our members for comment and then issued them to each of our eight candidates. Six out of eight candidates responded:


Here follows their responses:

 

Sally Ann Hart, Conservative




1. The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency, we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations, Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe, which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition, which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly, VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, and acts as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. 


VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth, not throttle it. Do you agree?  And specifically, would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why?

 

I have worked with UK Hospitality and Kate Nicholls as an active member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism. I have consistently campaigned for reform of business rates for retail, hospitality and tourism businesses and a reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses. With the APPG, we successfully campaigned for a reduction in VAT to 5% during and following Covid. We are currently campaigning for retention of the 12.5% rate. It stands at 20%. We successfully campaigned to raise the VAT threshold from £85k to £90k, and I will continue to hold the government accountable for keeping the VAT threshold under review.


I will always support a reduction in VAT for hospitality businesses. It will enable local businesses to employ (more) local people by increasing the wage offer.


2. The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?


Yes. Business Rates urgently need reform. Please see a link to article I wrote before becoming MP. I have since raised my points directly with the PM as Chancellor and put them forward again to the PM as policy suggestions for the manifesto. 


Alongside colleagues, I successfully campaigned for business rate relief for retail, hospitality and tourism businesses, which currently stands at 75%. We need to do more and I fully support calls for fundamental reform to business rates because I actively campaign for this.


 

3. Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs regarding recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?


I have worked with East Sussex College to ensure that they work with local businesses to provide the skills needed for local jobs. In my election campaign in 2019, I urged businesses in the Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce to forge better working relationships with our local colleges and schools. I have supported this initiative since then.


I have also supported initiatives such as the Chef Partnership locally (which unfortunately did not take off) trying to increase skills and partnership working across our local hospitality sector. 


I also advocate for more apprenticeships and work experience opportunities. 


Hospitality and tourism businesses provide a global career and have enormous potential for growth here in Rye. We do have vacancies across the constituency, and I have most recently been engaged with the APPG for Hospitality and Tourism’s current inquiry (on hold due to the general election) into recruitment and retention of staff. We need to ask what more the sector can do and what support it needs to improve staffing levels and make recommendations to government.


East Sussex College has developed some excellent courses for hospitality and catering - and I actively promote English Tourism Week every year and careers in hospitality and tourism locally on behalf of local businesses. As a coastal community, tourism and hospitality is vital for our local economy and has huge potential for growth. We need to encourage more people to enter the sector as a career choice.


 

4. The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that living and working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?

 

One of the major issues that Rye College and hospitality businesses raised with me is the lack of affordable housing due to too many AirBnBs and short term holiday lets impacting on the ability to recruit and retain staff. I know one local hospitality business at least which has had to purchase accommodation just to get staff.


There needs to be a balance between a buoyant tourism industry and maintaining affordable accommodation for local people. I successfully campaigned to empower local authorities to manage the growth of holiday lets. Second homeowners who want to let their properties on platforms like AirBnB now need to get planning permission to do so. This will help prevent excessive short-term lets which hinder affordable housing locally. In addition, a mandatory national register will provide local authorities with information about short-term lets in their area. This helps councils understand the extent of short-term lets, their impact on communities and ensures compliance with health and safety regulations. These policy interventions are a direct result of my work - as the chair of the APPG for Coastal Communities and our Pragmatix report and as a contributor to the Onward report into coastal communities. 


We need a balance between supporting the visitor economy and ensuring local people have the homes they need.


As regards affordable housing locally, I have held joint roundtable meetings with Bexhill and Battle MP, Huw Merriman, Rother businesses and Rother District Council to sort our planning blockers to our local rural economy. At our last but one meeting, I asked Hastoe Housing Association to present to the meeting, which. Included a number of local landowners. Hastoe specialises  in sustainable rural homes and we need more of these! I led discussions on what was needed for affordable local homes and 4 landowners came forward to take discussions forward on providing a parcel of land (much cheaper than they could get on open market) on the outskirts of villages which could be developed into affordable housing to rent and buy. I want to take this forward if re-elected.


Recent planning applications in Rye have always been encouraged by me to include more affordable housing and I champion a local occupancy clause for new builds. I hold Rother District Council to account to enforce the affordable housing element in planning applications. 


The Conservative Party manifesto also commits to boost the availability of affordable housing in rural areas for local people. I support this pledge.


I have campaigned for better local bus services and to continue with the £2 cap on bus fares. We need a demand/responsive service and more partnership working with local authority/bus operator/community buses. Improving our local transport infrastructure would attract investment to Rye as well as improving access to to education or work. Investing in transport is crucial to unleashing our full potential which is why I have set up a limited company with others - no fee taken - to leverage in private sector investment to get the fast train extended from London via Ashford to Rye, Hastings and beyond. Linking up our coastal towns is as important as a faster route to London. 



5. UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from oversees because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ringfenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?


Absolutely. Tourism and hospitality is vital to our local economy and has huge potential for growth. I took Hastings BC to task for their grave error in failing to continue to support 1066 Country. I would also advocate for all local authorities to have tourism strategies and work together across local authority borders. Whilst a councillor at Rother DC (2015-2020) I held the portfolio for culture, tourism and public realm and forged a focus on tourism as a priority growth area (I developed a public realm strategy and would have done the same for tourism if time!)

 

6. Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account?


Like literally everyone else in our community I am fed up with Southern Water’s failures. I spend a huge amount of time dealing with SW’s ongoing issues on behalf of local residents and businesses. As regards outages, flooding and sewage issues, I have brought together all the relevant agencies (SW, East Sussex County Council, Highways, local authorities, the Environment Agency, Sussex Resilience Forum), as well as - at appropriate times - residents and local business representatives, to work together on various water issues. 


I hold SW to account for their shortcomings, poor compensation - especially for businesses, and lack of investment. 


I advocate for regulations to be amended to hold water companies more accountable to businesses directly for losses incurred due to failings. If SW for example can be fined £90 + million, it should properly compensate our businesses for their losses - despite most businesses having insurance.


I have secured a commitment from SW to invest tens of millions into our water infrastructure - not only on reducing sewage discharge but also to ensure a plentiful and resilient supply of clean water. I most recently, jointly with SW, wrote to Ofwat regarding increasing investment to improve our local water services. 

 

7. Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?

 

I am a massive advocate for nature-based solutions to climate change - unleashing the power of nature to do what she does best. This requires a focus on restoring nature on land and in the sea and I have successfully campaigned for government focus and investment in this, including for Local Nature Recovery Strategies, for which ESCC was allocated funding last year. NbS to climate change - unlike green or environmental taxes, cost little to ordinary people who can least afford to pay for the luxury of being ‘green’. 


As regards tourism, we have a ripe area for eco-tourism and something I advocate far and wide. I will continue to focus on this as a priority area.


At national level I have campaigned for more support to be given to local authorities to be able to provide EV charging points. The government is actively supporting the installation of EV charging infrastructure by providing grants and incentives to local authorities, such as the Local Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Fund. 


As a member of the Conservative Environment Network, we have campaigned to the Chancellor to cut VAT on residential public charge points from 20% to 5% to be in line with private chargers. I will continue to campaign for this change.



8. The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?

 

Since we left the EU in 2020, our goods exports to the EU have not performed any worse than to the rest of the world, and our services exports have grown strongly.


Our economy is growing - faster than Germany. The UK is now the joint fastest growing economy in the G7 with Canada, outpacing France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the USA. 


We are now the fourth largest exporter in the world - largely because of Brexit (the new free trade agreements). I supported and continue to support the government’s efforts to support SME’s via the Export Advice Toolkit and UK Export Finance. I have also held a couple of events to showcase the benefits and support given to local businesses to help them export. The more we export, the more our local businesses can grow and the world is bigger than the EU.


What the UK government needs to do to help SMEs is to continue deregulating and make more flexible regulations. 


9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden equality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for faster broadband to help create more jobs in the area?


I campaigned for levelling up funding for Hastings and Rye. Hastings has received £20 million via the Levelling Up Partnership and £20 million through the Long Term Plan for Towns. Rother also received £20 million in Levelling Up Partnership funding and I campaigned Rother DC to ensure the eastern part of Rother was not left out. 


I have also been campaigning for specific funding for coastal communities and pleased that the Conservative Manifesto includes a commitment to launch a Seaside Heritage Fund to support enhancements to our seaside heritage.


The Government brought in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act in 2015 - primary aim was to improve the business environment in the UK. It has had some positive outcomes - improved access to finance and fairer provisions for tied pub tenants, for example. However, more needs to be done to ensure businesses are aware of the benefits of the Act, that the Act reflects emerging trends and needs which means involving more local SMEs in policy making to make the Act more effective.


As regards tax burden equality between online and physical businesses, this should all part of a reform of business rates.


I have successfully campaigned for improved broadband locally, especially in rural areas. I supported Westfield’s drive to improve its broadband connectivity through the Gigabit Voucher Scheme. I liaised with government officials, Openreach, and East Sussex County Council on behalf of Westfield Parish Council and am happy to support other rural villages in their endeavours.


Superfast Broadband coverage in East Sussex is now 98.6%. The last bits are the most difficult and I strongly advocate that the next government should recommit to Project Gigabit and speed up deployment. Building Digital UK has made good progress so far, with over £1bn already awarded. But there is work still to be done. 


10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?


I have been campaigning for quite some time, including as chair of the APPG for Coastal Communities, for a fairer funding formula for local authorities (and for school funding, healthcare, policing etc) to ensure that our specific needs as coastal communities are met, as well as unleashing our potential.


 

Helena Dollimore, Labour


1.     The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out, and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, acting as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth not throttle it. Do you agree?  And in specific would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why?

 

Our local hospitality sector is absolutely key. It plays a vital role in our local economy attracting tourists and putting us on the map. We also have important links with the national hospitality sector, with local residents helping run the Gold Service Scholarship scheme that helps nurture the next generation of hospitality talent.


Recent years have not been easy to run a hospitality business. The pandemic brought closures and restrictions, and the Cost of Living crisis has hit footfall. Southern Water’s failings have hit local businesses too.


Our key economic goal will be to provide economic stability and get the economy growing. This will not just be judged by numbers on a spreadsheet but by how our high streets look and feel. If people have more money at the end of every month, then they are more likely to spend it in local businesses.

Stability will be vital, and has been completely absent under the Conservatives. How can a business plan with support packages and tax policy differing from one budget to another? Under Labour, you will have stability.

Labour will support our local high streets by putting more police on the beat to crack down on shoplifting and anti-social behaviour, and give communities new powers to transform empty shops. We will also reform the apprenticeship levy to give businesses more flexibility as to which skills they invest in.

Labour has committed that everything we pledge to do in our manifesto will be fully funded and fully costed. While we have confirmed that we will not raise VAT, we cannot commit to any tax cuts including VAT without first getting the economy growing. We have seen the disastrous consequences of announcing unfunded tax cuts with the Liz Truss mini budget, which residents and businesses are still paying the price for.

 

2.     The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?

 

I agree, the current business rates system disincentivises investment, creates uncertainty and places an undue burden on our high streets.  We will replace the business rates system, and replace it with a fairer system that levels the playing field between the high street and online giants, better incentivise investment and also tackles empty properties.

 

3.     Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs when it comes to recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?

 

Many businesses are feeling the impact of skills shortages and the overall lack of a national skills strategy to fill gaps and plan for the future.  Rye and Hastings has huge potential but it is being held back by this failure.

 

Nationally, we will establish Skills England to bring together local business, training providers and unions with national and local government to ensure we have the highly trained workforce needed. This will involve giving more powers to local areas to tailor this support based on local needs. The changes we propose to the apprenticeship levy should also allow local businesses to have more flexibility as to which skills are invested in.

 

Locally, as our MP I’ll work with local businesses, the local Chambers of Commerce, local councils and our local schools and colleges to make sure we are fostering as much collaboration as possible. There are some really good examples of this already, so let’s do more and make sure bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way. Many local schools have a work experience week and careers talks which are good ways to encourage our young people that there are good opportunities on our doorstep.

 

4.     The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that living and working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?

 

I’m very aware that many local workers, especially in hospitality, are coming from further and further afield as rental and house prices have spiralled because this government has not build enough homes. The only way to tackle this is to build more affordable and social homes, and reform the planning system to make this easier especially on brownfield and grey belt sites. The recent new development in Icklesham, providing 15 new affordable homes for local people, shows that it can be done. If a village the size of Icklesham can do it, we should be able to do more across Hastings and Rye.

We also need to take action to protect renters, so we will introduce an immediate ban on no-fault evictions, an end to rental bidding wars and extended protections against damp, mould and cold. But the only real way to make renting more affordable is to build more homes, which is why this is key to our strategy.

 

Local public transport is not good enough. Our trains and buses don’t run often enough, are cancelled at short notice and cost too much. I recently brought Labour’s Shadow Transport Minister, Stephen Morgan MP, here to meet with the Marshlink Action Group and hear from local residents about what needs to change.

 

As our MP I’ll put pressure on the local bus and train operators to deliver a much better service. If we have a Labour Government too, we’ll give back more powers to local communities like ours to protect bus routes and by bringing the train operators under public ownership and control, we’ll make our railways serve passengers and the taxpayer better.

 

I will also campaign strongly for Eurostar services to stop at Ashford again.

 

5.     UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from oversees because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ringfenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?

 

It was a real shame to see the 1066 partnership defunded by HBC. If we compare ourselves to many of our South Coast neighbours, I believe there is far more that could be done, including by our local councils, to put us on the map.

As MP, I’ll always support these efforts as best I can.

 

When it comes to national government funding commitments on tourism, we can’t commit to any further investment beyond what is in the manifesto without first getting the economy growing again.

 

6.     Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account?

 

When the Rye water outage happened, I put pressure on Southern Water to fix it and then highlighted their shocking attempts to avoid paying fair compensation to the businesses concerned. I brought Labour’s Environment Secretary, Steve Reed MP, who leads our policy on the water companies, to a roundtable with local businesses in Rye to hear about what needs to change. After the recent Hastings water outage, I brought local businesses together to discuss how they the legal options open to them. But it is abundantly clear to me that the current legislation does not go far enough, as if elected as our MP I’ll campaign to change it.

 

More broadly on Southern Water, from sewage to outages to flooding they need to get their act together! Labour will get tough on failing water companies. We will ban bonuses for water bosses while they continue to fail. We will introduce independent monitoring on every outlet and automatic severe fines. We need to end the sewage dumping scandal which causes so much damage to our health, our environment and our local businesses. And as our MP, I’ll press Southern Water for the urgent answers we need as to the state of our local infrastructure and what they are doing to ensure we do not have the taps running dry again.

 

7.     Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?

 

There is a huge opportunity to put carbon reduction, and the transition to net zero, at the heart of driving economic growth. The clean energy transition

represents a huge opportunity to generate growth, cut energy bills and make Britain energy independent once again. That is why clean energy by 2030 is Labour’s national mission.

 

Labour will cut energy costs for local businesses by switching on Great British Energy, a new publicly owned company to deliver clean power and cut bills.  More EV charging points are key too.

 

8.     The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?

 

The Conservative botched Brexit deal is not working and they have no plan to fix it. I hear from many of our local small businesses in Hastings and Rye how this handling of Brexit is holding them back, burdening business with reams of new red tape and creating more barriers to doing business, slowing our economic recovery, and deepening the cost-of-living crisis. Many local businesses have told me they are doing much less business now with European countries. There are many things that could be done quickly to tackle these difficulties through our plan.

 

Labour will work to improve the UK’s trade and investment relationship with the EU, by tearing down unnecessary barriers to trade. We will seek to negotiate a veterinary agreement to prevent unnecessary border checks and help tackle the cost of food; help our touring artists; and secure a mutual recognition agreement for professional qualifications to help open up markets for UK service exporters.

 

 

9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden quality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for faster broadband to help create more jobs in the area?

 

Our local high streets are absolutely key to driving our local economy and tourism. To revitalise our high streets, we will:

 

∙       Tackle anti-social behaviour and shoplifting by putting more neighbourhood police and PCSOs back on the beat and scrapping the ridiculous £200 rule introduced by the Conservatives which stops shoplifting under £200 being investigated. I know from speaking to many local business owners this is a huge issue.

 

∙       Replace business rates: Labour will replace business rates with a new system of business property taxation which rebalances the burden and levels the playing field between our high streets and online giants.

 

∙       Stamp out late payment: small and independent retailers shouldn’t be forced to wait months to be paid for work by big clients. Labour would introduce tough new laws to stamp out late payments and make sure more money gets to high street firms.

 

∙       Revamp empty shops, pubs and community spaces: people won’t visit high streets blighted by unsightly boarded up shops. Labour will give communities a strong new ‘right to buy’ beloved community assets to revamp high streets and end the blight of empty premises.

 

∙       Roll out banking hubs: thriving high streets need banking services for local businesses and customers. Labour will roll out banking hubs to guarantee face-to-face banking in every community boosting local high streets and shops.

 

10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?

 

Local government is facing major financial strain because of the Conservatives’ economic mismanagement which sent interest rates soaring, along with their failures on public services and failure to get the economy growing.

 

To provide greater stability, a Labour government will give councils multi year funding settlements which gives certainty and ends wasteful competitive bidding.

 

But we also need in our Member of Parliament a local champion who will ensure that our far corner of East Sussex gets its fair share. Whether it’s taking on East Sussex Fire Authority over proposals to downgrade our local fire service, or highlighting the challenges for our local schools that are often masked by East Sussex wide statistics, as your MP I’ll do whatever is needed to fight our corner.

 

Specifically on toilets, I think these are an absolutely vital public service and the erosion of these services is very concerning. I oppose any attempts to close local public toilets. Without good accessible public toilets, our public realm is not truly open to all.


 

 

Guy Harris, Liberal Democrats


I was grateful for the Chamber’s very insightful questions, and hope my responses will assure the members that the Liberal Democrats take the forthcoming business challenges very seriously, and that I personally will support local businesses and lobby the incoming Labour Government on their behalf. I will do so as a political representative, but also as a customer and member of our community.


To briefly acknowledge the current and medium-term context, the UK economy is in a parlous state, having yet to recover from the financial crisis, Covid, Brexit and energy shocks. Our debt to GDP ratio is the highest since the 1960s, sitting at an astonishing 99.8%. Borrowing slightly increased in May, and the current budgetary settlement, signed-up to by both Labour and the Conservatives is predicated upon income tax rises (due to fiscal drag) and almost inevitable public sector cuts to ‘unprotected’ departmental budgets and local government comparable to the Osborne era. Both parties are pledged to reduce borrowing over the next five years and not to raise income tax, VAT or National Insurance. Labour and the Conservatives are also making significant public spending commitments, which have prompted the Institute of Fiscal Studies to aver that both parties are peddling ‘fiscal fictions’. Without borrowing, it’s hard to see where funding will come from to increase spending on health, education and defence, hence the obsession with productivity and growth. Growth, of course, is an economic aspiration, not a certainty, and hope is not really a strategy. Growth was flat in April, and whilst there were some glimmers of a recovery in consumer confidence after a wet Spring, it’s probably as well to be realistic about where we stand as a nation. The bright sunlit uplands are as yet obscured by the next rise... That having been said, locally and nationally, there are things we can do.


Economic and political stability is clearly key, which underpins my long term ambition to draw politics back to the centre, to consensus and to long term planning and sustained funding. Frankly, I believe our economic travails are as much to do with First Past the Post as they are to do with the hang over from the Financial Crisis. Business needs clarity and certainty. We cannot tolerate partisan vacillation on climate, nor can we tolerate Mini Budgets or ideological projects which destabilise trade and limit access to international labour. Finally, trade deals require proper Parliamentary oversight to minimise damage to local business interests like farming and fishing.


The Liberal Democrats will put tackling climate change at the heart of a new industrial strategy. We will cut emissions and bills with an emergency Home Energy Upgrade programme. We will drive a rooftop solar revolution and invest in clean energy, transport and industry. We will restore nature and tackle toxic air pollution. And we will provide skills training, incentives and advice to help families and businesses with the transition to net zero.  


We will re-establish the Industrial Strategy Council and put it on a statutory footing, to ensure vital oversight, monitoring and evaluation of the industrial strategy for the long term. There’s also a policy pledge to work with the major banks to create a banking sector dedicated to meeting the needs of local SMEs.


Though many people have urged us to be more vocal on Europe, the ambition is clear in our manifesto: We aim to restore political trust and cooperation with Europe and move back gradually to a point where the UK may re-apply to join the Single Market. This is not the work of a single Parliament, but that is our direction of travel.


Below are my specific responses to the Chamber’s questions.

 

1.     The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out, and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, acting as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth not throttle it. Do you agree?  And in specific would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why?


As a local resident, I access the hospitality sector frequently, and value it. In Rye and surrounding areas we boast some incredible venues which put us on the culinary map. The industry is also a vital employer. My wife and I enjoy our pubs and restaurants and frequently recommend them to visitors from the UK and oversees. I want to see them thrive, as a resident, and also as your potential MP. So, I know why the question about VAT reduction is posed.


However, the bigger picture is that the UK economy is overall in a parlous state, as above, with little sign of rapid recovery after July 4th. Whilst inflation is back on target and interest rates may begin to fall in August, the outlook is not rosy, indeed the Institute for Fiscal Studies says Sir Keir Starmer faces the hardest fiscal challenge in 70 years. Which is a long-winded way of explaining why the Liberal Democrats are not currently pledging to cut VAT – realistically, the Exchequer cannot afford it. We have supported reductions in the past, during Covid, for instance, but given the size of the hole in our public finances, it is difficult to see how tax cuts could happen at this juncture. This is news which will not be welcome, but is I fear, a reflection of the circumstances. I will always try to be objective, because businesses require honest forecasts. But I do have better news below.


2.     The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?


The increase in the business rates multiplier to 54.6p from 1 April will cost the retail sector and estimated £470m in 2024.The Liberal Democrats have for some years advocated reform of Business Rates, and our manifesto now commits us to abolishing them and replacing them with a Commercial Land Owner Levy payable by the landlord of the property, not the business tenant. It’s designed to halt the disincentive to invest in structures and equipment and to boost high street business. The intention is to level the playing field for ‘bricks and mortars’ businesses, to incentivise investment in business premises and to ensure the owner of the asset pays the tax. As to to the oft-levelled accusation that it will merely increase rents, the property market will set viable rental levels locally, and excessive rents would presumably dis-incentivise business occupancy.


3.     Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs when it comes to recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?


Recruitment, training and job creation are important issues locally and nationally. We want to fix the skills and recruitment crisis by investing in education and training, including increasing the availability of apprenticeships and career advice for young people. As an aside, I have participated in mock interview sessions run by Rye College. I hope they were valuable for students, but I know they were valuable for me, underscoring the ambition and talent of our kids. They’ve had a very tough time in recent years, and I know how mental health issues are weighing on many of them. We have a duty as parents and as a community to do our very best for them, and that’s what I pledge to do.


We also want to assist more people to enter the job market, such as parents and carers, by increasing access to affordable, flexible childcare and revising rates for providers – a prerequisite to ensure the Government’s extension to the Free Hours scheme is actually viable. We’ll invest more in apprenticeships, revising the inflexible current model, and create new Lifelong Skills Grants to enable people to develop and enhance their skills. I’d also like to see what further synergies could be developed with businesses and local colleges to create for young people a path into part time or full time employment. I am conscious that The Mermaid has done admirable work with Hastings College which has resulted in students transitioning directly into the working world. Having spoken with staff at Hastings College. This is to be greatly commended. I know that not all businesses have the space and staffing capacity to accommodate the same schemes, but where it is possible, I would support and encourage it.


The post Brexit settlement is also an issue, and Lib Dems are committed to assisting British business and farming to recruit the people they need. We have pledged to rebuild our relationship with Europe and, ultimately, it is our ambition to rejoin the Single Market, a long-term prospect that feels in tune with the growing public recognition that Brexit has not delivered what was promised. Moreover, it could provide a necessary boost to growth, upon which the UK’s long term recovery is dependent.


Additionally, in the spirit of community, I’d propose a voluntary local initiative, where local foodies with long experience as business owners or indeed customers, mentor young people who may be coming into the hospitality industry or may indeed be already working within it. Those of us fortunate enough to have eaten in restaurants or propped up bars(!) could pass on valuable professional and social skills from the all important customer perspective. We all know what we appreciate, service-wise, and what we don’t like. Let’s restrain the tendency to resort to Trip Advisor and help local businesses improve their staff with, for instance, a monthly face to face ‘Customer Forum’ to channel feedback and perhaps offer advice or even local awards. Perhaps Rye News could do an occasional column commending great service?


Transport is also key to widening the pool of available staff, and I address that below.


4.     The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that living and working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?


We all know we need more affordable housing, and Liberal Democrats, unlike other parties, have put a number on our ambition. We want to build 380,000 homes a year, including 150,000 social homes. I acknowledge that planning, land values, workforce and skills are critical factors in realising these goals, but the 2024 Manifesto outlines initiatives to address these challenges, and critically, Lib Dems would not put Sir Keir’s ‘bulldozer’ into gear, least of all in an ancient town surrounded by Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Lib Dems would expand Town Planning nationally and development would be preceded by genuine community consultation which does more to reach out to a cross section of our community. Too frequently, I see the same faces at consultations. It’s a delight to see them(!), but we need to draw in a broader cross section of people.

  

Lib Dems are also committed to addressing the challenges faced by renters. We’d end S.21 ‘No Fault’ evictions, licence landlords and provide local authorities with the powers to suspend the right to buy and to increase Council Tax on second home owners. These measures are intended to regulate housing supply and reduce rents over time.


Healthy, productive workers need decent homes. Our lack of decent affordable and social housing is critical, but what is often overlooked is the scandal of social homes which make their tenants mentally and physically ill. I’m acutely aware of Southern Housing tenants in our constituency who are being made sick by black mould. How can we boost productivity in the UK or locally while people are living in Dickensian conditions that shame us all? As your MP, I will do all I can to make sure people have homes which are warm, energy efficient and keep them mentally and physically well, and fit to boost our flagging economy.

Locally, I know transport, especially after hours, creates a particular problem for young workers in hospitality. It’s vital to have cheap and reliable services that connect Rye to Hastings, Ashford and beyond. It’s also critical that the timetables suite our need, not the train operators’.


The state of our roads is another critical strategic issue I’m focussed upon. Like many of you, I’ve spent money I can’t afford on new tyres and car maintenance, necessitated by the state of our roads. We’d give more of the roads budget to local councils to maintain existing roads, pavements and cycleways, including repairing potholes. I have spoken on The Jeremy Vine Show and on Channel 4’s Dispatches about the problems we are facing, and as your MP, I will continue to engage, because cars are essential for work and for the economy, particularly in rural areas. On that last point, I would seek to ensure Rural Fuel Duty Relief is extended to East Sussex.


Nationally, Lib Dems are proposing to boost bus services by giving local authorities more powers to franchise services and simplifying funding, so that bus routes can be restored or new routes added where there is local need, especially in rural areas. We’d also maintain the £2 cap whilst fares are reviewed. We’d extend half-fares on buses and trains to 18-year olds and work with operators to introduce a Young Person’s Bus Card, giving 19-25 year olds a third off bus fares.


As well as decent infrastructure, we need more EV charging too, of course, and Lib Dems are committed to more electrified rail and zero emission transport too. We would reinstate the 2030 cut off for sales of petrol and diesel engines.


I’d like to engage with existing services like Flexi-Bus and the Community Bus to see how those providers could perhaps immediately support the nighttime economy in Rye to benefit local business. Additionally, I would work with local lobby groups and Southeastern Rail to see whether we could achieve small improvements which might accrue significant benefits. Clearly, this would require sustained engagement and negotiation, it’s not a quick fix. However, pushing back the time of the last train from Rye to Ashford, for instance, might greatly enhance the ability to draw staff to Rye.


5.     UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from overseas because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ring-fenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?


Liberal Democrats would upgrade the status of tourism in government with a dedicated Minister of State for Tourism and Hospitality, and I am personally dedicated to ‘selling’ our beautiful county and its towns and villages, of which Rye is the jewel in the crown. I would lobby for greater support for the 1066 brand, and work with local hospitality and retail businesses to improve our transport accessibility and our national and international social media presence, which today is vital. Our many music and food festivals have helped put Rye on the culinary and cultural map, and so much has been achieved by dedicated local volunteers, who should be thanked and encouraged to sustain their vital efforts in these straightened times. Money will not be abundant in the coming years, but I shall work with all potential partners to raise funding for capital and marketing support and of course for the restoration of physical attractions such as the Land Gate, and the restoration or renewal of our decrepit public lavatories.


As I have already said, Brexit has been an economic impediment, and Lib Dems are clear that we’d try to repair the damage and eventually seek to rejoin the Single Market. I would also lobby for the Eurostar to return to Ashford.


6.     Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account? 


This is of central importance to me, and the Lib Dems have a clear plan to address these unforgivable failings outlined in our manifesto. Our coastal waters and our rivers must be clean for visitors, and our key services like water supply cannot be neglected to the detriment of local residents and businesses. Watching my neighbours in Rye queuing for a drink of water was one of the most demoralising spectacles of last year. The same happened in Hastings in May, and I could not help but be reminded of refugees in countries I once regarded as having inferior services to Great Britain… This situation is far from what we deserve, and I shall do everything in my power to ensure Southern Water is held to account and implements proper resilience plans. In my opinion, tankers of water do not represent adequate resilience measures, that is akin to the Fire Service turning up with buckets.


In May, I sent a Freedom of Information request to Southern which underlined to me that the burst strategic main which left Hastings without water for nearly six days, was a foreseeable eventuality. Lib Dems will establish stronger regulation of the water companies, transforming them into Public Benefit Corporations which are overseen by a Clean Water Authority with teeth. We will ensure they work for us, and do not leave us either flooded, parched or unwashed. We will impose a sewage tax on failing companies and ban bonuses. The Liberal Democrats opposed the Conservative and Labour support for the ‘Growth Duty’, passed in May, which obliges Ofwat to have regard to utility companies’ profits when setting fines. This arguably weakens regulation. Whilst Public Benefit Companies can make ‘reasonable profits’, Lib Dems will strengthen oversight and regulation. Given my kids swim in our coastal waters, please take it as read that this matters to me.


7.     Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?


As a parent, I’m fully committed to the green transition. The climate emergency is real. Living in a rural part of the community, I can see the impact of changing weather patterns, and I know the effect it has on our livestock and arable farmers, our tourist and hospitality sector, our sporting fixtures and even on our damp social homes... Globally, we know the existential risks, and anyone amenable to orthodox science understands how climate will impel migration. Lib Dems’ commitment to the green transition is non-negotiable. We will not set it against the ‘growth duty’ and we will not trade it for votes. We have placed tackling climate change at the heart of a new industrial strategy set out in our manifesto, and I commend you to review Chapter 5, Climate and Energy. https://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto


We need more EV charging points in addition to the limited facilities we have. This will necessitate further upgrading of the grid, which Lib Dems fully support. Our manifesto makes explicit commitments to reach Net Zero by 2045, and to achieve 90% renewable energy by 2030. These are ambitious targets, but they reflect the urgency of the situation. We will therefore invest in green infrastructure, innovation and skills to boost economic growth and tackle the climate crisis.

Additionally, we have set out policies to support the expansion of community and decentralised energy, including the following:


  • Empowering local authorities to develop local renewable electricity generation and storage strategies.

  • Giving small low-carbon generators the right to export their electricity to an existing electricity supplier on fair terms.

  • Requiring large energy suppliers to work with community schemes to sell the power they generate to local customers.

  • Reducing access costs for grid connections.

  • Reforming the energy network to permit local energy grids.

  • Guaranteeing that community benefit funds receive a fair share of the wealth generated by local renewables infrastructure.


There is an awful lot more to report, but I’m personally committed to the green transition and will lobby for resources and commitment from the incoming Labour Government.


8.     The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?


Please see my earlier replies regarding Liberal Democrat commitment to scrapping business rates and to repairing relations and negotiating reciprocal arrangements of mutual benefit with the EU. The latter include reciprocal veterinary and phyto-sanitary agreements to assist exporters and importers. We’d replace the Conservatives’ arbitrary salary threshold with a more flexible merit-based system for work visas, with the relevant department working with employers in each sector to address specific needs as part of a long-term workforce strategy that also focuses on education and training to address skills gaps from within the UK.


Clearly, the cost of doing business - or perhaps more importantly, the profitability - is related to consumer confidence, the ability and cost of accessing business funding, the availability of trained, healthy employees, and the ease of trading overseas, where relevant. Ideally, we’d have minimal ‘red tape’ and reasonable business taxes too. To my mind, the British economy is like a socio-economic machine, and it’s presently firing on one cylinder due to a myriad of problems, many of which are not economic. It would be ridiculous of me to make one or two prescriptions and pretend a magic wand could be waved. The truth is, this is a long term project, and we need a political system which is not distracted by partisan squabbles and ideological projects. The first step in repairing national and local business is to stabilise the economy and to draw British politics back to consensus, to long term planning and sustained focus and funding. We need longer political and economic horizons. We need to make economic prosperity a cross-party project.


I’d lobby Westminster on behalf of local small businesses and work with the Rye and Hastings Chambers to develop specific local policy goals that could be promoted at The Department for Business and Trade.


9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden equality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for faster broadband to help create more jobs in the area?


A key Lib Dem policy is the abolition of Business Rates, as above, and this would assist to level the playing field for ‘bricks and mortar’ businesses. I look forward to an interest rate cut in August, and greater economic stability, if not immediate growth. I would certainly support better digital connectivity for SMEs, and the greater use of digital marketing, such as is already practised to good effect by certain small businesses in Rye. There is a specific pledge in the manifesto to make gigabit broadband available to every home and business, including in rural and remote communities (Chapter 15).


I’d be interested to engage with the Chamber to learn about the Small Business Act and what its scope might be.


10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?


The enhanced funding of local government, including longer financial settlements and greater local powers for councils are key Lib Dem manifesto pledges. We always seek to devolve power and financial agency. However, I suspect that the economic climate in the next five years may militate against a short-term increase in central government funding to unprotected departments and local government, especially if the Labour government does not borrow or increase taxes, which it has pledged not to do. The Labour manifesto sets out revenues from closing tax loopholes and adding VAT to private schools etc, which they suggest will raise around £8bn. The Liberal Democrat manifesto sets out broader taxation targets intended to raise £26bn from increased taxation on banks and super-high earners etc. There has been debate about each party’s projected revenue and spending costings, but it is notable that Lib Dems are seeking to raise three times as much as Labour for increases in public spending on key areas like the NHS.


In terms of the lack of public toilets, I support the Chamber’s initiative to use the £25,000 grant that they successfully applied for to make renovations on the town’s public conveniences. This seems like an ideal use of the funding, which must be spent in this financial year. I support devolving the responsibility for the lavatories to Rye Town Council, who are not Council Tax capped. I note Rye Town Council’s allocation of further funding which may support cleaning of the lavatories, and I admire their rapid response to this crisis. Long term, all Rye’s public conveniences need either renovation or complete renewal, but the Chamber and Town Council’s efforts are greatly to be commended in the interim. Further funding sources, innovations or business partnerships need to be considered, and I would be amenable to exploring the potential for a Tourist Tax, such as operates in Venice. A similar initiative was proposed by Lib Dems in Southwark.


As a footnote, I am painfully conscious that Winchelsea and other nearby locations face the same challenges regarding public conveniences.


Finally, I would also be personally keen to sustain pressure to restore tax-free shopping for overseas visitors.


I support the Chamber’s Business Improvement District initiative, and would work with Sarah and Jane and all relevant stakeholders to develop pragmatic solutions to the exigencies of a constrained economic scene, which is what we shall continue to face in the next few years.


To conclude, I suspect the existing trend toward local cuts and increasing charges seems likely, given what we know about the economic outlook. International crises cannot be ruled out, which means social and economic resilience is likely to be a factor we all need to keep a weather eye on in the coming months and years. My personal opinion is that Britain is in a challenging situation, politically, socially and economically, and the compelling arguments for cross-party cooperation and consensus could not be more compelling. As I said, I feel electoral reform ought to be a key ingredient in plans for our national recovery, and it saddens me that this is not part of Sir Keir’s prospectus. Nevertheless, I judge this to be a watershed election. I suspect Labour will have the shortest political honeymoon in history, and Rachel Reeves’ review of the finances will doubtless be a sobering one. I suspect there’s turbulence to come, but our community’s experience of Covid shows just how dynamic, versatile and collaborative we can be. I think we’re going to have to raise that community spirit to the fore and brace ourself for further challenges, which I hope we’ll meet together. In the coming years, I would not be anywhere else...


‘Nothing Succeeds like Sussex’…


 

Lucian Fernando, Reform Party




1.     The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out, and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, acting as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth not throttle it. Do you agree?  And in specific would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why? 


 I fully agree with the need for a reduction in VAT for the hospitality sector. Given the significant contributions of hospitality to our local and national economies, lowering VAT will make our businesses more competitive globally, keep prices affordable, and drive growth. Additionally, I advocate for comprehensive VAT reform to support all small and micro businesses, which are vital to our economy but often stifled by the current VAT structure.


2. The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?


I strongly support the call for urgent reform of business rates. The current system is outdated and hampers growth and investment. By reforming business rates, we can create a more favourable environment for local businesses to expand and thrive, contributing to the overall economic health of our region.


3.     Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs when it comes to recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?


Addressing the skills gap and recruitment challenges is a top priority. I will work to bring businesses and training providers together to develop tailored support for our community. This includes championing better skills planning and ensuring that Rye becomes a place where people want to work and build their careers, particularly in key sectors like hospitality.


4.     The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that living and working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?


Improving transport links and affordable housing is essential to attract and retain talent in Rye. As your MP, I will advocate for enhanced transport services, including late-night options, and push for more affordable housing solutions. These measures will make it easier for people to live and work in our area, supporting both residents and businesses.


5.     UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from overseas because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ringfenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?


I support the call for reinstating National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels. Consistent investment in tourism is critical for attracting international visitors and supporting our local economy. I will push for ring-fenced central government funding to ensure sustained support for the visitor economy.


6.     Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account?


The repeated failures of local water companies have significantly compromised our businesses and residents. Reform UK firmly believes that the privatisation of water services has led to a lack of accountability and inefficiency. As your MP, I will advocate for the renationalisation of water companies. By bringing these essential services back under public control, we can ensure that they are run transparently and with the public’s best interests at heart. Renationalisation would allow for better investment in infrastructure, improved service reliability, and stronger regulatory oversight, ensuring that water companies are held accountable for their performance and that such disruptive failures do not occur again.


7.     Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?


While the idea of green investment and carbon reduction initiatives may seem appealing, it is important to approach these measures with caution. The reality is that many of these initiatives can place significant financial burdens on businesses, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors. Implementing extensive green regulations often results in increased operational costs, which can be detrimental to small and medium-sized enterprises struggling to stay afloat. Additionally, the push for rapid carbon reduction can lead to hasty policy decisions that do not take into account the practical needs and capabilities of local businesses. Reform UK advocates for a balanced approach, ensuring that any environmental policies implemented do not stifle economic growth or impose undue hardships on our business community.


8.     The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?


To alleviate the cost pressures on small businesses, I will work to improve relations with the EU. Easing trade barriers and fostering cooperative relationships will help reduce operational costs and open up new opportunities for local businesses.


9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden equality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for faster broadband to help create more jobs in the area?


I support the introduction of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses. Creating tax burden equality between physical and online traders and ensuring faster broadband access will help our high streets and small shops in Rye and Camber thrive. These measures are essential for creating jobs and sustaining local economic growth.


10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?


Adequate funding for local government is crucial for maintaining essential services. I will advocate for better funding to prevent the erosion of services, such as public toilets, which are vital for both residents and visitors. Ensuring that local authorities have the resources they need is essential for the well-being and prosperity of our community.

Thank you again for your questions. I am committed to working closely with the Rye Chamber of Commerce and all local stakeholders to address these issues and foster a thriving, sustainable community.


 

Becca Horn, Green Party



1.     The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out, and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, acting as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth not throttle it. Do you agree?  And in specific would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why? 


As an actor and former employee in restaurants, pubs and event catering for years, and whose partner owns a pub, I fully understand the pressures on the hospitality and events sector, and just how vital it is not only to our trade and tourism but also in providing local people, particularly our younger population, with employment. Hospitality has had it tougher than most particularly through Brexit, Covid and now the cost of living. I am always astounded by the sheer resilience of many small businesses at managing to hold on.

 

The Green Party understands this pressure and announced last week that we will push for VAT to be axed on local theatre, cultural events, gigs and hospitality. Greens want to see everything from theatre and museum tickets to gigs in local pubs to be exempt from paying VAT, and for hospitality to be served up VAT-free.

 

2. The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?

 

Greens are strongly in favour of supporting local economies. We would give local authorities discretionary powers to exempt socially and economically essential local enterprises from business rates. We are also proposing a major overhaul of our taxation system. Greens view council rates as regressive, and as part of shifting taxation away from employment and towards wealth, elected Greens will champion a fair system for taxing landowners. Our long-term policy aim is a Land Value Tax so that those with the most valuable and largest land holdings would contribute the most. Greens support small businesses that are currently paying taxes for the services they use, and will take steps to tackle the global corporations that are not.

 

3.     Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs when it comes to recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?

 

Hospitality is struggling to recruit staff in our post-Brexit, post-Covid economy. There are numerous reasons for this; we lost some EU workers post-Brexit, some retrained during Covid, others cannot find suitable local housing, struggle with transport, or suffer with physical and mental health in an increasingly unwell society struggling to cope with the daily pressures and costs of living. Greens see many of these issues as connected to our broader Inequality Crisis. We know that, in order to retain staff, people need to be paid enough to feel that they can cope. Greens would increase minimum wage to £15 an hour, and we would support businesses to meet this by doubling the Employment Allowance to £10,000. We would push for a return to the free movement of people between the UK and the EU, including reciprocal rights to work for both UK and European citizens. Long-term we would push for a Universal Basic Income which will allow everyone the breathing space to start a business, train or study, and lessen the need for people to leave their area just to look for a better paid job.

 

Greens also pledge £12bn investment in skills and lifelong learning for further education and training. As part of the Green Energy Transformation, Greens will be looking to invest in skills training in green tech and with community owned energy and retrofit schemes being run locally this will create further employment opportunities in our smaller towns such as Rye.

 

4.     The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that living and working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?

 

As you’ve rightly pointed out, these are key factors in retaining employees in Rye. Greens have excellent policies for both, with plans to empower local authorities to impose rent controls when the market is overheated, abolish no fault evictions, and end the right to buy, creating instead a community right to buy. We pledge to provide good quality, truly affordable social housing in places where people live and work, with a requirement to provide investment alongside to boost local services such as buses, cycling and walking networks.

 

Elected Greens would push for local authority control and proper funding for bus services and bring rail back into public ownership. We would invest an additional £19bn over five years to improve public transport, with a strategic approach to identifying areas for re-opening and increasing services.

 

5.     UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from oversees because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ringfenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?

 

This is a huge deal for Hastings & Rye. As recently elected local councillor, I was astonished that Hastings had pulled out of the 1066 partnership. Locally it is Green strategy to reinstate this relationship, and encourage strong tourism links between Hastings, Rye and the rest of the 1066 country. The Green Party has pledged an extra £5bn over five years for local government spending to keep local museums, theatres, music venues, libraries and art galleries open and thriving. Greens understand that arts, heritage and culture are important to many people’s enjoyment of life, help boost mental health and wellbeing, and make a valuable contribution to the UK economy.

 

6.     Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account?

 

As founder member of Hastings & St Leonards Clean Water Action Group, and a year-round sea swimmer, this is a topic very close to my heart. Over the last few years of campaigning and digging into this issue, it’s become quite clear to me that there is only one lasting solution to this problem, and that’s to bring water back into public hands, where it belongs. Water is a right to life, and we need to keep the profit motive well away from it, particularly as we move towards times of greater uncertainty around water security due to climate change, along with the threat of flooding in our area, which creates a huge insurance problem too. By raising an estimated £50 - £70bn a year, Greens’ wealth tax policy will raise the capital needed to bring water back into public ownership. We would invest £12bn into water & sewage infrastructure over the next Parliament.


 

7.     Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?

 

Of course this is a top priority for Greens, and we’ve got by far the most ambitious – and fully costed – plan to decarbonise our society at least a decade ahead of the current 2050 target, which is too slow. We are in the middle of an exciting revolution in the way we produce and use energy. Greens will introduce new support and incentives to directly accelerate wind energy development and bring in new support for solar and other renewable energies. Our targets are to achieve 80GW of offshore wind, 53 GW of onshore wind, and 100 GW of solar by 2035.

 

Small and medium-sized businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and our communities and we recognise the complete lack of support and confidence shown by recent governments to help them transition to zero carbon. Greens will push for:

 

  • A £12.4bn investment in skills and training, equipping workers to play a full role in the green economy.

  • A share of community ownership in local sustainable energy infrastructure such as wind farms.

  • Regional mutual banks to be set up to drive investment in decarbonisation and local economic sustainability.

  • £2bn per year in grant funding for local authorities to help businesses decarbonise.

  • Community ownership to be encouraged through greater access to government funding in the transition to a zero-carbon economy.

  • Govt support for small businesses to replace their vehicles as diesel and petrol engines are phased out.

 

Green policy is built around creating a fair and just transition to a green economy, and that means putting communities and local economies first, and making the polluter pay by introducing a carbon tax.

 

8.     The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?

 

The Green Party opposed UK withdrawal from the EU, and believe that Britain would be better off politically, socially, environmentally and economically had we maintained our EU membership. Green MPs will work towards re-joining the EU as soon as the domestic political situation is favourable and EU member states are willing. We would push to join the Customs Union as a first step. We also propose a speedy return to the free movement of people between the UK and the EU, including reciprocal rights to work for both UK and European citizens. This feeds back into helping improve recruitment for our hospitality industries.

 

9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden equality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for faster broadband to help create more jobs in the area?

 

Greens believe in reviving local high streets by supporting local businesses with policies that help them thrive in balance with the environment. Our high streets are often plagued by empty premises: we would remove business rate relief on empty properties, to encourage active businesses. With more online shopping taking place, I see our high streets evolving into leisure areas for eating, drinking and enjoying events, on top of independent, localised shopping.

 

Our public transport and active travel connectivity policies would help bring people into the town centre and make it more pleasant once they’re there, with 20mph the default speed limit in built-up areas, and an aim for 50% of all town journeys to be taken by walking, cycling or wheeling. Green MPs will champion reintroducing nature into our urban environments, with investment in schemes such as street planting of native trees, making it more pleasant to eat, shop, stay and play.

 

Greens will also push to protect the night-time economy through a review of planning regulations and giving local authorities the powers to ensure there is space for cultural life.

 

Late payment remains a problem for many smaller businesses and sole traders. It is not acceptable that large companies or public bodies rely on unarranged credit from smaller enterprises to manage their cash flow or simply fail to process invoices promptly. Elected Greens will campaign to bring the Prompt Payment Code into law.

 

Greens also support local food producers and sellers. We will campaign to reduce the vulnerability of small-scale suppliers relative to the oligopolies in retail, food and drink manufacture and supply, by regulating for fairness in negotiation and new legally binding codes of practice. Our Fair Farming Charter will also put farmers back in the room to develop new farming policy. This will have a positive impact on smaller town high streets such as Rye in being able to stock locally sourced produce, helping the unique charm of Rye continue to flourish and attract visitors year-round.

 

10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?


Funding to local authorities has been cut by 49.5% since 2010, completely stifling their ability to provide the services our communities need. Greens want communities to have the funding and the powers to make the planning decisions that are right for them. Local authorities need to be given the resources to act as guardians of the land and the built environment. They need to be able exercise a place-making and place-shaping role. From housing, to public health, to local transport, to planning, to community energy, Greens will put the authority and funding back into local hands to make the best decisions for their communities, and provide the public services we all need in the places that we need them. We will of course do this in a sustainable way, too – transforming the planning system to ensure all developments take into account whole-life carbon, future-proofing building design (new homes to be built to Passivhaus standards), and balancing the need to provide homes, energy and infrastructure with the needs of our natural environment – ensuring that we are always thriving in balance, together.

 

Nicholas Davies, Communist Party of Britain



1.       The hospitality sector contributes £140bn in economic activity and £53bn in tax receipts to the economy each year. In the Rye & Hastings constituency we generate nearly £325m of revenue and £165m of economic value from hospitality (UK Hospitality Data), so as significant tourist destinations Rye & Camber need the best conditions to thrive. Yet the UK has one of the highest rates of VAT for hospitality in Europe which is a drag on our competitiveness on the world stage. We stand with UK Hospitality in lobbying for a lower rate of VAT for hospitality – it will enable our hospitality businesses to keep prices more affordable for the public, encouraging more people to eat or drink out, and visit attractions or book breaks. A thriving hospitality industry creates competition which keeps prices affordable in the long term. It would provide the conditions for investment and growth.  More broadly VAT stifles growth among ALL small/micro businesses, not just hospitality, acting as a blunt instrument based on sales revenue. Thus, it is often easier for businesses to trade deliberately under thresholds. VAT Reform is badly needed here to encourage growth not throttle it. Do you agree?  And in specific would you support the call for a reduction in VAT for hospitality?  And if not – why?


In general terms, we are against VAT taxation due to the application of the tax implies smaller businesses. Bigger businesses and monopolies aren’t affected by this taxation as much as smaller businesses which are the ones who are linked to our area. It affects the consumer also. Taxation to those bigger businesses is a measure which could replace the VAT tax.


2.       The British Chambers of Commerce, Federation of Small Businesses and UK Hospitality are calling for an urgent reform of Business Rates – a call that we echo here at Rye & District Chamber of Commerce. We need business rates reform to encourage growth and investment. Do you support this call?  And if not – why?


Similarly to the previous question, we would look to reform the taxsystem for those bigger businesses and monopolies to be the ones wherethe taxation is implemented.




3.     Our area urgently needs help to improve skills and recruitment. The FSB is calling for the government to really listen to SMEs when it comes to recruitment challenges and to provide better tailored support and we agree. Here in Rye, we struggle to recruit and retain staff across many sectors but particular in the hospitality sector. What assurances can you give us that you will champion better skills planning – bringing businesses and training providers together to ensure that Rye is a place where people want to work and develop their careers?


First and foremost, recruitment and skill development is one of the most important subjects when talking about hospitality. The sector in general has characteristics which aren’t particularly attractive for most of the workforce: long shifts, working on anti-social hours, fast-paced environments, etc… Also, hospitality jobs are focused on young people for their recruitment. We have this perception of the jobas being non-skilled, that’s the reason why most businesses pay the minimum wage. The wages of young people, especially those under 21, are lower in general terms than those who work in another sectors.One of the points in our program is to raise the wages in apprenticeships to a living wage and end zero-hours contracts which affects directly to this sector. Workers want a decent quality of life, that is ensured by giving working conditions that are vital to create stability in the personal lives of those workers. Creating apprenticeships in the sector would ensure skills are developed correctly but also that workers can build their career and skills in this area.


4.     The key issues that make recruitment a struggle for Rye businesses are the lack of transport links and affordable housing. What would you do as our MP to effect the changes we urgently need so that people can live in, or travel to and from the area easily (including late at night for jobs in hospitality) in order that livingand working in Rye becomes a more attractive proposition and prevents us from becoming a town that is just for visitors and not for residents?


Our program states we stand for building council houses and introduce immediate controls on rent. Especially important for places like Rye and Hastings where it is a particular touristic place. Effectively regulation of businesses like Airbnb will improve our community, housing situation and tourism.  We support the public ownership of rail and bus companies.


5.     UK In-bound is calling on the next Government to reinstate National Tourist Board budgets to pre-inflationary levels to strengthen international marketing. As a tourist destination – we need exposure on an international stage. We all but lost our visitors from overseas because of Covid and Brexit and have been slowly clawing them back ever since. Currently support for tourism is a discretionary item financed by local authorities as they see fit, we’ve seen Hastings all but stop investing in tourism, Rother continues to invest via the 1066 partnership, but its funds are very limited. As our MP would you support ring fenced investment in tourism from central government to enable the visitor economy to be better supported?


Not only is it important to finance it but the issue with tourism goes further than investment. We need to look at the bigger picture to understand the problem. Nowadays, it is easier to book a flight and go abroad to spend your holidays than travel around Great Britain with your family. That’s the first issue we need to tackle. We must investigate sustainable tourism where we not only focus on consumption but cultural and historical tourism where we promote our area in the national side. As part of it, the nationalisation of transport as previously mentioned would be a first step to ensure our trains and coaches doesn’t cost more than booking a ticket to Spain or Italy.


6.     Our area’s businesses (as well as residents) have been repeatedly compromised by failings of the local water companies. Our businesses have shouldered the cost of lost bookings and lack of footfall during each of these extended and avoidable episodes in recent years. As our MP what would you do to ensure this doesn’t happen again, and that the water companies are held to account?


As any utility, water companies should be brought into public ownership. The model of business water companies have is based on profit rather than service which is contradictory with the reasoning behind the purpose of the usage of water, electricity, etc. The incident that happened in May would have been sorted by the effective maintenance of the sewage and infrastructure in place. Something that water companies have failed to deliver jeopardising our community. The nationalisation of  such services will ensure effectively the management and maintenance of our infrastructure.


7.     Rye & Camber are lagging when it comes to carbon reduction initiatives. Our town needs greater investment when it comes to things like EV charging points, and for green investment throughout the tourism and hospitality sector. As our MP what support would you give to this?


I will support it. Our plan is to launch a new Green Industrial Revolution to fight climate change like China’s model where there is modernization at the same time than protection for the environment. With public ownership, investment, and planning this would create more than a million new jobs.


8.     The cost of doing business is limiting growth.  If you are elected, how will you work to improve relations with the EU to cut costs for small businesses?


When we left the EU, the promise was we will have sovereignty in our economy and policies. However, this has been proved wrong as the economy hasn’t grown as it was promised to. Creating international treaties of import and export will be the key in our economy but we need also to rebuild a regional development strategy for our economy, including small businesses.


9.     What initiatives do you think need introducing to help high streets – like ours in Rye and small shops in Camber, survive and thrive?  Would you support the idea of a Small Business Act to improve the operating environment for small businesses? Would you support moves to create tax burden quality between businesses with a physical presence and on-line traders? Would you support the need for fasterbroadband to help create more jobs in the area?


We will support a Small Business Act. Our high streets, particularly in seafront cities where tourism is an important part of our economy,shall come back to life again. Small businesses are vital to the local economy.Regarding on-line traders and businesses, we should research the impact of it on our economy to assess what challenges we have- does it affects import and export? How does it affect these? How can we effectively improve our local businesses marketing and promotion online and in presence?Creating a faster broadband will also improve people lives as internet has become an essential part of our communications.


10. There is a trickle-down effect of restrictions on funding. So central government has been squeezing funding going to local authorities for years; local authorities have been raising costs on homes and businesses – rates, parking etc – as well as cutting services to go some way to compensate for loss of income. The buck stops at the bottom, and the bottom we’re concerned about is Rye & Camber. One of the most contentious examples of this – is the now almost complete absence of public toilets. In a tourist town! How will you help ensure local government is better funded so that services don’t continue to be eroded?


The review of the national budget to councils and, in general, in our investment shall be focused on the public investment and to boost local authorities strengthening our communities. As a candidate for these elections, I stand for the full restoration of powers and funding to local government, reversing a generation of central government cuts. We have the responsibility of ending austerity measures imposed from all these years of Tory government and properly fund local and national public services by taxing the rich and big business monopoly profits.

 

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