Axminster business recovery hopes

This needs to be read in conjunction with Simon Jupp’s public support for Exmouth.

Tim Dixon

Hard-hit traders in Axminster have their attention fixed on Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget today as he announces his financial route out of lockdown.

A survey of businesses by the Totally Locally Axminster traders’ group shows that optimism over the town’s future is being tempered by concerns whether crucial support will be available to help them get through the recovery stages. 

As chief executive of one of the town’s most high profile businesses, River Cottage managaing director Stewart Dodd said that businesses would be unlikely to return to pre-Covid revenue levels until 2022. He spoke for most with his assessment of the critical factors for local businesses, including a furlough scheme extension until July 31 to support a phased return to work. He believed both the reduced VAT rate of five per cent and businesses rates relief should be further extended to the end of March 2022, and urged pressure be put on banks and lenders to allow further capital repayment breaks, plus encouragement to landlords to allow rent breaks.

He added: “Its highly likely that the UK economy will be buoyant throughout the summer months whilst people remain cautious booking international vacations but it’s important that the government continues support through the winter months, as the economy slows. Hopefully, in the spring of 2022 the economy will bounce back to pre-Covid levels.”

The longer term need for business rates reform is regarded as a key issue by Ian Styles, who has invested heavily in Axminster during lockdown through the restoration of the Trinity House anchor store as a haven for small independent businesses.

“The promised review of the business rates system is long overdue,” he said. “For those that have to pay it locally it can be a crippling burden – there is a real need to level the playing field between large and small businesses.”

At Collate Interiors, owner Naomi Eden highlighted the need for further grant support to cover the true cost of being closed for three months and funding for small towns to help with post Covid regeneration plans. Archway Bookshop’s Simon Holmes was cautious about an online tax designed to help small shops, fearing it could rebound on businesses like his own that have greatly increased their website trading through lockdown.

Boris Johnson sets up charity to fund Downing St renovation

An in-depth article in Tatler reveals that Symonds, 32, has been overhauling the flat to remove all vestiges of Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”. 

Owl believes that ardent Tory, Philip Skinner, has a grand mahogany dining table that is definitely not John Lewis; perhaps he could donate it to a cash strapped PM?

Extract from Oliver Wright, Policy Editor

Boris Johnson’s plan to set up a charity to help pay for improvements to Downing Street is “inappropriate” and “monstrous”, a former standards chief has said.

The prime minister reportedly wants the new body to be based on one used by the White House to raise millions of dollars for interior design, antiques and art. He is said to be struggling to fund the makeover of his official flat by his fiancée, Carrie Symonds.

Johnson is said to have asked Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row, a Tory peer and multimillionaire financier with close links to the royal family, to run the charity. An application to register it with the Charity Commission is said to be under way.

The charity could be funded by private donors, which would risk claims of a conflict of interest if it were seen as a backdoor way of providing benefit to the prime minister.

While its official purpose would be to raise funds to preserve No 10 and No 11 on heritage grounds, insiders say that the plans stemmed from the costs of Symonds’s makeover.

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told The Times that the charity idea was “quite inappropriate”.

Graham said: “It looks like he is seeking to set up the charity for personal benefit rather than for the benefit of a wider group in need. I would quite like to set a charity up to refurbish my flat in York, but I don’t think it’s a practical proposition. That’s not what charities are for: to provide enhanced living standards for the prime minister and his wife.”

Graham said that the idea of the charity being funded by party donors was “monstrous”. He said: “If you’re making a donation, you’re making it to a political party for the purposes of ensuring that party stays in power, you don’t do it for the personal benefit of the leader of the party. It would seem to me an abuse of his position as prime minister. I cannot believe how it crossed his mind. If there is a need to do certain things in terms of maintenance, that should be paid out of government funds.”

An in-depth article in Tatler reveals that Symonds, 32, has been overhauling the flat to remove all vestiges of Theresa May’s “John Lewis furniture nightmare”. The flat, above No 11 Downing Street, is larger than the one over No 10 and has been used by every prime minister since Tony Blair took it over.

In a separate piece the Daily Mail said that Johnson, 56, had complained that the cost of the project was “totally out of control”. The decor is said to have been inspired by Lulu Lytle, a celebrated eco-interior designer, who makes furniture “based on traditional crafts, including blacksmiths”.

Johnson is said to have first expressed concern last year after being informed by the Cabinet Office that the maximum taxpayer contribution would be about £30,000……

Simon is backing Exmouth, which town are you backing Neil?

From yesterday’s posts (see here and here) we learn that Simon Jupp continues to back Exmouth as a candidate to receive funding from either: the levelling-up fund, or the UK shared prosperity fund; and  only last week lobbied his election campaign pal, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Robert Jenrick. (Eat your hearts out Cranbrook, Ottery, Sidmouth and Budleigh).

So, Neil Parish, which East Devon Town are you backing? Honiton, Axminster or Seaton? Perhaps you favour Mid-Devon and are rooting for Tiverton instead? 

As we come up to the County Council elections do drop Owl an email with your choice.