IT has been a busy few weeks here in Central Devon and in Westminster.

I have been out and about across the constituency visiting local businesses and discussing a range of issues, including the economy and local trade.

In Crediton I visited The Bike Shed as it marked its 30th year in business.

The Bike Shed is an independently run cycle store with four locations across Devon, selling a wide range of bikes and accessories and offering repairs and services in their on-site workshops.

It was useful to hear about some of the challenges facing the cycling industry from owner Mike Sanders, who has been involved in the day-to-day running of the business since its inception.

I found Mike’s comments on the Cycle to Work Scheme particularly helpful, and will be contacting the Treasury on some of the points he raised.

I also visited Ladds of Crediton, a country supplies store specialising in computer services and repairs, country clothing and air rifles. It was great to catch up with owner Alan Ladd and hear about how the business has developed since my last visit.

During the meeting, we discussed some of the economic factors which have impacted upon rural businesses in recent years. Alan’s business is doing really well and there are, I think, signs now of the economy having turned a corner.

Global issues like Covid and the war in Ukraine have hiked up inflation and put huge financial pressures on households and businesses alike.

Last month’s news that inflation is now at its lowest rate in two-and-a-half years is incredibly positive, and the independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) now predicts that we will reach our two per cent target by next quarter.

Rural businesses like Alan’s really are the backbone of local economies and it was fantastic to hear such positive feedback.

In my role as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I met with Work Coaches to discuss the progress that is being made through the Government’s Back to Work Plan, which will invest £2.5 billion over the next five years to help 1.1 million people with their job search.

Alongside the tax cuts announced in the budget, which come into effect from this month, and the next generation of welfare reforms announced last Autumn, we will see around 300,000 more people in work.

Slashing National Insurance by a further two pence this month combined with the cuts announced at the Autumn Statement last year, is a tax cut for 29 million working people across the UK and will benefit many locally with someone on an average salary gaining by £900 per year.

Staffing is difficult for some local businesses here in Central Devon, particularly in industries like hospitality, and I hope these tax cuts will see more people in work as we approach a busy season for the sector.

I have several visits planned across the constituency in the coming months and I look forward to hearing feedback from even more individuals and businesses first-hand.

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