Cllr Selaine Saxby is the Conservative candidate for North Devon and a councillor on North Devon District Council.
I am honoured to have been selected as the Conservative Party Parliamentary candidate in North Devon, although at a very late stage with just 30 days to go, following Peter Heaton-Jones’ decision to stand down. I stood for Council in May this year with a similar time frame, again following an unexpected decision by the local councillor not to re-stand.
I was only elected to North Devon District Council this May. However, I stood for Parliament in 2015 in Llanelli, worked as Chief of Staff to Ben Howlett, MP for Bath, 2015-2017, and helped campaign in everything from 2010 onwards. I am no stranger to the maelstrom that is a General Election campaign.
The key skills that I take to all these roles are the willingness to listen to what people are asking for help with and to try and find a solution. Also, to build partnerships and find common ground to bring people and communities together.
Being a district councillor gives clarity to local issues across a small patch of an entire constituency. For example, whilst warmly welcoming the investment in the A361 link road secured by Peter Heaton-Jones, I am aware that locally there is great concern about congestion on local roads, particularly around Barnstaple, Bickington, and Braunton. Local planning decisions have not come with the necessary infrastructure or joined-up thinking about our local roads. There is work to be done to integrate the national and local plans to ensure that the area around Barnstaple is not gridlocked and I am pleased to see a wider vision for Barnstaple is being drawn up by the District Council.
As a popular tourist destination, there may also be the opportunity to support tourism from Westminster by securing a cut in tourism VAT. Local hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions would all benefit from such a cut in VAT. This is something that we can seriously look at once we have left the EU.
Second homes are also an issue in North Devon. It is the same across much of the South West and I will work with other MPs to close loopholes that see some second homes paying no council tax or business rates. We need to ensure tax revenues from these properties are properly paid. And we need to ensure that many of our most beautiful villages in North Devon are not half empty most of the year where second homes are left completely deserted for months, sometimes years at a time.
Moving from local councillor to parliamentary candidate enables me to look at issues that I have faced at the District Council level and see similar issues and concerns in other parts of the constituency. Finding common problems, seeking mutual solutions, and finding support from other constituency MPs to find an over-arching solution on a national level. For example, privately run car parks with excessively strict parking restrictions with over-zealous penalty charges and aggressive tactics to obtain payment are increasingly common and something that aggravates local communities and are potentially damaging to our tourism offering.
Having worked in an MP’s office before, the common thread I see through both councillor and an MP’s role is to find solutions to people’s problems. But the joy of being an MP is so often you have enough influence to be able to get more done. You have the overview to be able to join together like issues in different parts of a constituency to seek multiple solutions and change at a national level for the benefit of your own community and the wider country.