Sir George talks to the President of the Andover Women in Business Club, Brenda Locke, before speaking at their meeting held at Wyke Down Picket Piece.
An extract of Sir George's talk follows.
CONTACT WITH LOCAL BUSINESSES
"I am interested in the wealth creators in NW Hants. They provide my constituents with jobs, and also provide them with goods and services. We have low unemployment, but there are still local problems. My job is to understand aand help solve these problems and do all I can to sustain and promote prosperity.
We have a good spread of firms locally; the area is not overdependent on one industry – tourism, defence, motor manufacture or IT. There is a good broad base, with not very many very large companies – largest being Twinings, Portals, Britax, Shire Pharmaceuticals, HSA, the DLO.
The farmers have had a bad time, particularly those in pigs; sadly I can’t claim that there is a clear road ahead for farmers. They can diversify, subject to planning; sell off tied cottages, do B&B, horsiculture; and some may hope that the Hampshire Structure Plan redesignates their farms for houses; Farmers markets in Andover and Weyhill have been a real success, but no substitute for a confident and sustainable agricultural industry.
Many in the haulage business have had difficulties – overcapacity, rising costs, competition from overseas hauliers with access to cheaper petrol; the high pound has affected those exporting.
We have had some local closures and rationalising - GBE, Lloyds TSB – but the buoyancy of the local economy has mopped up unemployment.
There are a large number of small family owned firms and signs of skills shortages.
I am worried about Andover as a retail centre. With the purchasing power of Andover and the surrounding villages, we ought to be able to support a wider range of shops, and more shops of higher quality. We have good retailers in Andover and an excellent scheme that drives up quality; but we are losing business to Basingstoke, Newbury, Winchester and Salisbury. Conflict between reviving the High St, and therefore turning down out of centre applications to drive retailers back in; or accepting that people want to shop at Tescos, Homebase and park on site and Andover High St is too small. I have no simple answer, but I flag it up as one of my concerns.
Transport. People irritated by not being able to park at Railway stations.
The local Railway service is good, but Andover station could be improved. A new franchise about to be awarded. SWT propose three trains an hour off peak from Waterloo to Andover – one non-stop, doing journey in less than an hour. Don’t believe these gloomy prognostications about the time it will take to restore confidence in rail. If we get back to normal by Easter, expect confidence to return well within the 3 years mentioned.
We need a decent hotel in Andover. Playing my part in encouraging a suitable developer to come in.
Costs of petrol a big local issue.
Petrol is now taxed more heavily than champagne. No point in clobbering the rural motorist if there is no alternative mode of transport.
I try to support local businesses by buying from them rather than suppliers outside the constituency.
I suppose I am rather like a local GP. I hold a regular surgery. I do some prescribing myself, but some are referred to specialists.
It is a great honour to represent you all in Parliament, and I hope you will contact me if you feel I can help.