By Kelly Wickham
A top government minister said that a business in Chichester is just the kind he wants to see succeeding.
Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sajid Javid arrived at Covers Timbers and Merchants in Chichester on Friday afternoon for a whistle-stop tour.
Employees at the family-run business in Quarry Lane were delighted to see the Chancellor, despite a delayed arrival by several minutes after Mr Javid was stuck in traffic on the A27.
Mr Javid was joined by Chichester’s Conservative MP candidate, Gillian Keegan, and Arundel and South Downs candidate Andrew Griffiths.
The Chancellor was asked a non-political question by the Chichester Post, to which he laughed, and said: “What? I don’t know what to do with that!”
Commenting on his thoughts of Covers, he told the Post: “It’s a really fantastic business. I really like that it is a long-running business here locally, it’s a family-run business, it’s employing local people but it attracts customers from across the country.
“It’s just the kind of business I want to see succeeding and doing even better.
“I have to get political, as we look into the general election. I want businesses to survive and do well and that means having the right result in this election.
“There is a huge uncertainty around. There is an uncertainty around Brexit.”
Mr Rupert Green, managing director of Covers, said they were called up just two days before regarding the visit.
He said: “We didn’t know what to do because we are not political as such but we do like to engage with local politicians and not often national ones, so it is the opportunity to put forward our views as a family business.”
“Ultimately we don’t pass that up which is why we said, yes, he is welcome to come along.
“I think the visit went very well. He got to see what we did. We were very nervous about timing but he is quite a quick walker which was good.
“As we walked around, we got the chance to put some of the issues to him, such as our customers needing certainty in getting the A27 sorted out.
“We can’t see building materials if nobody is there to be the carpenter or the bricklayer, or whoever, and the world needs more people in the building trade as the current generation of builders are all getting older.
“We also put to him that the planning process is hopelessly bureaucratic and our customers largely are of the small and medium builders and developers and of course, bureaucracy bloods other bureaucracy so that favours the really big house-builders who can have big teams and people who know how to persuade planning officers that they really have got to give permission.
“Our guys tend to be people who are actually out on site during the day and doing it in the evening so again, we put that to him.
“We also said that the tax rules for family trading businesses which can be cast on to the next generation of business.
“If there were a change in the inheritance tax rules, that meant that shares in this company were taxable on transfer. We are not quite sure if we would be able to continue this business for future generations.”
Covers started in Chichester in 1846 and continues to be owned 100 per cent by the Green family.
The company now has 14 sites and is one of the top 12 UK builders merchants. They employ around 410 staff of whom 184 are in Chichester. They have recently invested around £3m in a new Southampton depot.
Mrs Keegan added: “It was very, very exciting to have the Chancellor here in Chichester. Obviously it is super busy at the election and he has been going around all the country so for him to make time to come to Chichester is brilliant. I was delighted.
“It was good for him to see the city and see Covers and get to know a little bit more about what goes on here.
“He had called me up and asked if it was OK to come to Chichester and asked where. Covers is quite a unique business, it’s a family-owned business, it supplies a lot to help home-building in the area and a lot of eco-friendly products and I think that is going to be a huge focus going forward which I wanted him to see.
“I also wanted him to get a taste for the A27 in the rush-hour which is another part of the story. We all know we need to come up with a solution and have the backing of the Chancellor ,assuming we get a Conservative government.”
Mr Green travelled to a special reception at Parliament in July after Mrs Keegan nominated Covers as Chichester’s constituency responsible business champion 2019.