The candidates for the North Devon seat at the upcoming General Election got together to answer some tough questions about business on Friday. Each of the candidates Mark Cann (Labour); Steve Crowther (UKIP); MP Nick Harvey (Lib Dem); Peter Heaton-Jones (Conservative); Gerrard Sables (Communist) and Cathrine Simmons, standing in for Ricky Knight (Green) fielded questions on topics including the fishing and farming industries. The event at Barnstaple Rugby Club was arranged by the Federation of Small Businesses and chaired by North Devon chairman, Mike Matthews. After some brief introductions, things quickly heated up with a debate about how best to help the livelihoods of North Devon farmers. Following a question about tourism, candidates were broadly supportive of dropping VAT from 20 per cent to five per cent on tourism-related products. They also said the regions fishing industry needed more protection from the EU quotas. A group of students from Petroc college questioned whether apprenticeships should be prioritised over university places something which was again widely supported as a way of keeping young people in North Devon. The issue of zero hours contracts was also raised by audience members and Mr Sables got one of the biggest laughs of the night when he said: I think a lot of our MPs seem to be on zero hour contracts. Read on for a more about the views on some of the key issues facing businesses in North Devon.On North Devons farming industryCathrine Simmons: Im a farmers daughter so I understand the situation and how they have been treated by supermarkets is despicable. Farmers need to work as co-operatives and sell their products locally. Its no good relying on corporate businesses to help them out.Gerrard Sables: We ought to bring back marketing boards for farm produce to stop the supermarkets from bullying. Theres a big problem in this country of importing food - only 53 per cent of what we eat comes from the UK.Steve Crowther: The problem we have is our agriculture sector is being squeezed from all directions. Supermarkets drive the retail cost of milk down way below the cost of production. We need to beef up the powers of the competition commission and have less intrusion from the EU Common Agricultural Policy.Peter Heaton-Jones: The Government is trying to work with farmers and that hasnt happened sufficiently in the past. Fluctuation in prices is what causes farmers problems so we want to bring in tax averaging over two or three years to give a more stable basis for their business.Mark Cann: We need to do more to encourage people to get into the farming industry. We need to improve apprenticeship and increase the living wage and minimum wage. The Groceries Code Adjudicator needs to do more to protect farmers.Nick Harvey: Farming has changed in the last 20-30 years - it is on a different scale now. There are now far fewer micro businesses and far larger farms. Farmers have adjusted well to a more open global market. Getting the Groceries Code Adjudicator right is going to be critical for the farming industry.On cutting VAT for the tourism industrySteve Crowther: Were very keen to use tourism as a leading edge in Government but you have to careful dropping large amounts of VAT in our precarious economic position.Peter Heaton-Jones: I would support and fight for it.Gerrard Sables: VAT should be cut across the board to 15 per cent. It is a regressive tax and tax should only be for those who can afford to pay it.Mark Cann: We are one of the few EU countries who dont do this and it could have a good impact. Im not in a position to say how we would pay for it but I would support it in principle.Nick Harvey: I strongly support this and have been involved when John Fowler started this campaign locally 10 years ago. 25 of the 28 EU member states have used the flexibility to have this lower rate for tourism. There is a great deal in this for UK PLC if we could just look a little further ahead and wean the treasury off the thought of where the next pound is coming from. Yes, it would cost money in the first year but by year three it is making money and making £3-4billion a year within a decade. Nearly everyone in the UK would benefit from this.On university versus apprenticeshipsNick Harvey: We would achieve more by investing in apprenticeships, if it was either/or. We would achieve more if there was a greater focus on vocational skills. Apprentices quite often go to university, too as part of their training. University is often seen as a sort of panacea in reality people will fulfil several functions during their working life now.Mark Cann: Everybody has the chance to go to university, but is it always the most appropriate thing to do? We need qualifications with the same prestige and meaning as A-Levels and degrees from school age to get rid of this divide between those who do and dont go to university.Cathrine Simmons: I think we need more flexibility and youngsters should be directed into something they are interested in. Yes, go to university, but we need to create interesting jobs here for people to come back to. When young people from North Devon go to university, they dont come back.Gerrard Sables: I think a university degree is everybodys right if they can gain by it - not just in terms of employment but as a person.Steve Crowther: I now have a son who has a MSc who cant get a job and this is just ludicrous. We have as members of the EU a limitless supply of skilled and unskilled workers and employers exploit it. The price of labour has fallen because of the unlimited supply of labour are you going to be cheap enough for the market? We need to match the skills we are producing to the skills that manufacturers need make sure that after youve been through university and have £27,000 of debt that we can offer you a job.Peter Heaton-Jones: My message would be go to university, but come back because there are many more manufacturers here than people realise.On infrastructure and bringing money into North DevonNick Harvey: If the skills and interests that young people here have arent a match for the sectors we have thriving, theres not an awful lot we can do about it. We need to be realistic about the scale of the economy we can aspire to in North Devon. On zero-hour contractsPeter Heaton-Jones: Only 2.3 per cent of all employed people in the country are on zero hours contracts, so we shouldnt get carried away thinking it is the majority. And as someone who used to be on one as a freelance I can say that for some people, they work.Gerrard Sables: we want more control of capital and less control of labour. I think a lot of our MPs seem to be on zero hour contracts.On North Devons fishing industryMark Cann: This is clearly a very local and specific problem. The Government needs to be addressing it and it seems to me that something is awry here.Peter Heaton-Jones: There is not enough understanding in Government about the importance of the fishing industry here in North Devon. I would push for a small business administrator for the fishing industry.Steve Crowther: The Marine Management Organisation is all part of a tragic set up that has brought the fishing industry to its knees. We are about to lose our inshore fishing industry. Appledore has gone and Ilfracombe is going. Its an appalling travesty. Last year our quota was 60 tonnes and this year it is 1.5. Its insane. The Government needs to do something - if youre not going to leave the EU then at least be disobedient and pay the fine because we need our fishing industry.Cathrine Simmons: This is very unfair as North Devons fishermen didnt go over their quotas.Nick Harvey: This latest cock-up is absolutely astonishing. How on earth they could have miscounted the quota is unfathomable and beggars belief.On the election battleground in North DevonPeter Heaton-Jones: This is an election unlike any other. Small businesses count for 99 per cent of all economic activity in this country. We have the strongest and fastest growing economy in the developed world.Gerrard Sables: The crux of the matter is inequality in our society, not the economy. The rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer since the crash. Large corporations have been allowed to sidestep their responsibilities £120billion in tax is either avoided or evaded every year. Steve Crowther: Business and economy will be the big things for this election. North Devon is too reliant on its tourism what else should we do to build our economy? There are not enough jobs for young people. We need more support for people who want to start small businesses here; we can be the place for imaginative, innovative and creative businesses.Cathrine Simmons: More affordable housing would bring jobs to the area. We believe in a fair society and a fair economy. Nick Harvey: We are just two months away from an election and this is the first time in my lifetime that we have absolutely no idea of the outcome. Its on a knife edge at the moment and it is going to be a nerve-jangling time for all involved. We have a wonderful mix of businesses in North Devon, manufacturing for UK markets, and European and global markets as well. The UK has three-quarters-of-a-million more small businesses than it had in 2010 and there have been 3,000 apprenticeships in North Devon.