Small business owners from Lincoln and the surrounding areas were able to put some of the city’s parliamentary hopefuls through their paces at an election hustings hosted by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB).
The event, held at the Bentley Hotel on April 7, saw a number of business leaders and interested observers question the Conservative candidate Karl McCartney, Labour’s Lucy Rigby, Liberal Democrat candidate Ross Pepper and Helen Powell from the Lincolnshire Independents.
Tony Wells deputised for UKIP’s candidate Nick Smith and TUSC’s Elaine Smith was unable to attend due to illness.
Unlike the Punch and Judy politics voters have become accustomed to, a lot of common ground was agreed on by the candidates at this event.
Most said that the current structure for business rates was hampering small businesses in the city, with the situation described by them as “intolerable, crippling and devastating.”
Other issues where a broad consensus was reached was on cutting red tape for firms, improving links with educational establishments, and taking action on late payments to small businesses.
The most heated debate came over what the candidates would do to tackle cybercrime and telephone scams.
Phil Morris, who has run a haulage firm in Lincoln for 36 years, was the recent victim of business fraud where he was contacted by someone posing as an officer of Nottingham Crown Court who said that they were a debt collector seeking a winding-up order against his business.
He expressed his frustration to the candidates at what he perceived to be inaction from the banks and police to this type of crime.
“I think that they were all shocked at the lack of action by the bank, particularly as the major shareholder of the bank concerned is the government,” he said.
Phil also raised the issue the impact of fuel costs on small businesses such as his own.
He added: “I think Karl McCartney was correct in saying that the abolition of the fuel escalator and the freeze on fuel duty has been a major help. I hope that will continue and I just hope that the lower oil price does not tempt a cash-hungry government to up the duty on fuel again.”
Another key point raised was what the candidates would do to lobby the City Council into changing the current parking charges in the centre of Lincoln.
Emma Olivier-Townrow, who raised the question, said: “I think that Lucy Rigby seemed to get the point more and was quite realistic in her response. We’ve got to recognise that Lincoln is set to double its tourist economy and if we want visitors to walk around the city, then there needs to be more than just an hour’s free parking.
“Personally I think that there were two candidates that spoke the greatest amount of sense. Both Karl and Lucy seemed to understand the city’s needs and aspirations and had the most sensible answers.
“But because of their educational stance and how they will improve the Careers Service, my vote will probably go to Labour on May 7.”