Parliamentary recess is often confused as a holiday for MPs. It offers the opportunity for all MPs to spend more time working within their constituencies. In doing so we can get out and about to visit local organisations, hold more surgeries and attend more events.
This summer has seen South Devon boom with visitors and an almost tangible return to normality. Our tourism and hospitality sectors are exhausted but buoyant with a level of custom previously unrivalled. Farmers and fishermen have benefited from high prices and even higher levels of demand for homegrown/caught British produce. Our local pharmaceutical and technology businesses are gradually seeing more able-handed employees trained locally and moving to South Devon.
Of course, there can be no complacency, but the ‘Great British Staycation’ is not just benefiting the tourism sector but the whole economy. The platforming of South Devon will reap rewards for years to come. Over the last fifteen months, villages and towns have welcomed more and more young families who are seeking a better quality of life outside of our urban centres, and who can blame them!
During this parliamentary recess, I have toured farms, fish markets, businesses and local charitable organisations. I have seen how they have weathered the storm of the pandemic and how they are now gradually recovering. I have learnt how resilience is being built into their day-to-day operations and I understand what more can be done at both a local and national level to help them thrive over the coming years.
With Parliament returning next week, I will be taking these lessons back to Westminster and encouraging others to support me in calling for the following actions.
First, extending the 12.5% VAT level for the tourism and hospitality sectors beyond March 2022. Businesses in this sector may well be benefiting from a busy season but their recovery is by no means certain. In keeping our VAT levels below 20%, we will be more in line with many other high destination countries around the world.
Second, organisations like AirBnB must pay their fair share within local communities. South Hams and Torbay have thousands of AirBnB properties that impact Council Tax receipts, have insurance implications and above all can decimate and hollow out local communities. I have already persuaded the Chancellor to close the business rate loophole, but legislation has yet to be introduced. It must be done as soon as possible so that local authorities can recoup some of their lost revenues.
Third, with millions of individuals having been put on furlough and millions of businesses receiving government grants, it is time that we looked at reforming the tax code. We are all aware of income tax levels and national insurance, but the multiple extras all add up. We have turbocharged the move to online taxation, so now is surely the time to simplify the tax code for individuals and businesses alike.
Fourth, regional branding counts and must be supported. I have written in these pages before about the success of Cornwall in branding anything and everything with the Cornish flag. We must follow suit and use this as an opportunity to promote the incredible food and produce that we create here in Devon. Through both local and national government, we can enhance the concept of localism, create more jobs locally and build brands that reach far beyond our borders.
Events like last week’s Royal Dartmouth Regatta help to showcase the very best of what we have on offer. The 176th regatta provided a much-needed morale boost to residents and visitors alike and in doing so it promoted South Devon. That ethos needs to be captured and maintained so that we can face future challenges but also so that South Devon and its people and businesses can thrive together.