Support for local businesses was on the agenda when Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall joined Kingsbridge, Salcombe and Modbury Chamber of Commerce at Thurlestone Golf Club.

The networking event featured a Q&A session hosted by chamber chairman James Spencer, where a panel consisting of Mr Mangnall, Tally Ho! Director Don McIntosh, and Salcombe Mayor and chairwoman of Salcombe Community Land Trust, Cllr Nikki Turton, answered questions posed by attendees.

Questions centred around transport and housing which both contribute to staffing problems for local businesses.

Businesses highlighted the difficulties faced by employees who rely on public transport to get to work, including limited bus routes in some areas and the lack of evening services.

One business reported that they, along with others in the area, provide taxis for employees travelling from Plymouth to Kingsbridge as the buses do not meet their needs.

Mr Mangnall and Mr McIntosh both agreed that despite buses running on key routes throughout the day, examples given by businesses highlight the need for transport services to change.

Both spoke about the Demand Responsive Transport model, a flexible service that provides shared transport to passengers to specify their desired location and time.

While community buses already operate locally in the form of the Coleridge Bus, West Dart Bus and Bob The Bus, Mr Mangnall affirmed the need for council funding to ensure such services continue and develop further. 

Mr Mangnall also praised Tally Ho! for responding to passengers’ needs by launching a new service in 2021 which integrates with Great Western Railway train services, showing that transport companies can work together to improve services.

On the subject of housing, Mr Mangnall welcomed measures included in the forthcoming Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill aimed at alleviating the current housing crisis.

These include higher rates of council tax for second homes and empty properties, as well as a registration scheme for short term lets.

The MP also highlighted the importance of neighbourhood plans, which include affordable housing targets and principal residence policies for new housing developments.

Cllr Turton spoke about the work of the Salcombe Community Land Trust, which aims to provide local homes for local people with two affordable housing projects in the pipeline.

Mr Mangnall said: “South Devon has a vibrant business community and last week’s meeting was an opportunity to hear about the strengths and weaknesses of our local economy.

“It is clear from the meeting that there needs to be a greater focus on transport and housing as well as equipping students with the relevant skills to take advantage of what is on offer across the area.

“I will be working with the Chamber of Commerce and local businesses to ensure that we can continue to build a strong, successful and resilient local economy that provides for our tourism and hospitality sectors as well as develops key service sectors and industries across South Devon.”

Chamber of Commerce chairman, James Spencer, said: “Our annual poll of members tells us that the staffing crisis is the barrier to their progress. 

“Members tell us that for the jobs available here, the skilled staff exist in or near our area but public transport inadequacies, as well as the absence of housing to a lesser extent, keep the complement of workers apart from workplaces, leaving jobs unfilled and business infuriated. 

“Anthony Mangnall MP listened, he spoke passionately for business and he took away the facts, for which we at the Chamber are grateful. 

“Our beautiful area attracts opportunity for business to flourish every day, if people can only be enabled to travel to and from a workplace.”