Pie factory Q&A turns up heat on business minister

S03503H14''Minister at Higgidy Pies Shoreham on Thursday evening. Shoreham MP Tim Loughton James Foottit of Higgidy Pies and Michael Fallon
S03503H14''Minister at Higgidy Pies Shoreham on Thursday evening. Shoreham MP Tim Loughton James Foottit of Higgidy Pies and Michael Fallon

BUSINESS minister Michael Fallon trundled back to Westminster with a long list of issues raised by small firms following a visit to Shoreham on Thursday.

The minister visited rapidly growing pie manufacturers Higgidy, in Dolphin Road, for a tour and question and answer session with around 30 firms.

The session was arranged for Mr Fallon to see first-hand some of the problems small businesses were facing and explaining how the Government could help.

The minister said: “I love seeing successful companies which have worked their way through some difficult times.

“Smaller businesses are driving economic growth, we are seeing in the stats.

“Backing them really is absolutely crucial to having a recovery that is properly sustainable.”

East Worthing and Shoreham MP Tim Loughton arranged the visit, with those invited including Tina Tilley, CEO of Worthing and Adur Chamber of Commerce, Peter Webb, MD of ETI and Chris Coopey, of Carpenter Box.

A range of issues were discussed, with clear common problems including how firms would cope with potential rises in the minimum wage and scrapping of the minimum retirement age.

On the age of retirement, Mr Webb, whose electronic thermometer company employs over 200 people, said: “Less and less youngsters are coming through at the bottom. It is really short sighted in my mind.

“It has created a real big problem and the Government has made a big mistake in taking away the retirement age.”

In response, Mr Fallon said it was a difficult issue, as an increasing number of people were able and willing to work for longer.

Tackling concerns over the minimum wage, which could be increased at an above-inflation rate, Mr Fallon said the decision had not yet been made.

He said: “It is decided on the evidence of the Low Pay Commission, which we ask for each year. There is a balance, here and the decision is not yet made.”

Other areas of contention included the complexities of the grant system, poor provision of fibre optic broadband and auto-enrolment pension schemes.

Parafix owner and chairman of Lancing Business Park BID Mike Punter said he had been turned down for grants numerous times.

But in Hungary, where he has a second factory, he had received three significant grants for equipment.

Mr Fallon said: “There are too many grants and it is difficult to navigate.

“I accept we need to make it easier to access schemes and we need to make it faster too.”

Mrs Tilley said the event was well attended and businesses made it clear that there are key issues.

She said: “It was good to have the opportunity to meet Mr Fallon and I think some strong messages came out from the businesses. It will be interesting to hear any feedback on the issues raised.”