Monday, 18 May 2009

Away from expenses rows there are other issues too....

Today has been a busy day on the campaign trail focusing on some of the issues affecting businesses in the region. Despite the understandable anger about MPs expenses, we should not forget these issues.

In Newmarket our MEP candidate team was joined by Jeremy Hunt, shadow minister for media, culture and sport. Around 7,000 people from all walks of life are employed in the horse training and breeding industry around Newmarket, and 80,000 across the UK. Horses from here travel all across the world. The industry like many others has been affected by the recession. Free trade is vital. We discussed what has already been done to lift trade restrictions, what more can be done as well as the worrying implications of some planned EU legislation and how we could help them.

At formal campaign "launch" we all signed a pledge on transparent expenses and our aims to stand up for Britain against EU rule, fight against the waste of British taxpayers money in the EU and defend British businesses in a free trade environment. Good stuff.

We went to visit the other end of the extreme in rural business. Three years ago a family farm in Norfolk decided to diversify into their dream and built England's only Whisky distillery. (Given that most of UK's malt is produced from barley grown in East Anglia there should be more!). This business employs only 5 extra members of staff but they are important jobs in a rural area. Within this short time they are already exporting around the world and had 20,000 visitors stop off for a tour last year. We discussed the benefit they have had from the lower pound.

Then to Archant Newspapers, owners of the Eastern Daily Press and many other papers and magazines across the East of England. This industry has been hit (there are lots of different reasons) but the recession has accelerated a downturn in revenues - think of the drop off in income from property and job ads alone. Local papers are important, not only do most people look in them if finding a home to rent or new job but they also are often vital in holding local government to account. They too want a level playing field with, for example, news sheets funded by local councils. Jeremy was able to discuss his concerns and share ideas.

Then to Norwich Castle and their excellent museum (I must take my children there). Again they are needing to be extra careful with cash. I heard that they have benefited from EU funds in the past and about their struggles with bureaucracy. Again this is something I would like to see reformed - it is British tax-payers money that has been paid over to the EU: we would like more back but it must be spent well.

Then on to Fakenham on the Norfok coast. I was given a tour of the town, and the race course that pulls in over 10,000 visitors on a good race day. Tourism and agriculture are the key businesses - as well as the chocolate factory. I spoke about what we would like to do to help agriculture with our Honest Food Campaign, and heard from those involved in "hospitality" how the lower pound may help with this years summer tourist trade. I explained our commitment to keep out of the Euro. Crime and antisocial behaviour are issues too, I saw the shop windows that had been smashed over the weekend.

We then went to knock on some doors. Not surprisingly the expenses scandal is the biggest talking point but as the conversations progress to other issues I was buoyed up by the large number of people who feel that the Conservative party is still worth their vote.

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