Ilfracombe’s Open for Business event welcomed Justin Tomlinson MP this morning (Friday)

A Government minister has said North Devon is ‘leading the way’ in encouraging more disabled people back into work.

Disabilities minister Justin Tomlinson was speaking this morning (Friday) at the Open for Business event at The Landmark in Ilfracombe, hosted by Combebusiness.

The minister was impressed by the busy conference, which included a Disability Confident exhibition hosted by North Devon MP Peter Heaton-Jones to help more companies employ disabled people.

Mr Tomlinson told the Gazette: “It’s fantastic to see so much energy and enthusiasm.

“As a community year-on-year they have been so pro-active showcasing local business and support networking and making sure that everybody can take advantage of the huge wealth of talent out there.

“Through this event, the networking groups that are set up and Peter Heaton-Jones, who is one of the most vociferous and pro-active MPs in Parliament, standing up on an almost daily basis to speak of what this area does.

“As a Government the Prime minister has committed us to halving the disability employment gap and in the last 12 months there have been over 152,000 more disabled people in work, for which the North Devon businesses are leading the way.”

Mr Heaton-Jones said he was delighted by the visit: “I have always been committed in making sure we get Government ministers who make the decision to come to North Devon so that they know what a fantastic business community we have here.

“The Combebusiness exhibition is bigger this year than I have ever seen it, combined with the Disability Confident event, which is all about making sure that employers who hire in North Devon know what opportunities there are to employ people with disabilities or mental health issues.

“We need to make sure that the employers are aware that there’s such an untapped talent among people that have disabilities.”

Open for Business also featured a series of high profile speakers, including Chris Garcia of the South West LEP, Laurent Boon, BT programme director and internet entrepreneur Adam Saunders.

This afternoon Justin Tomlinson is visiting Calvert Trust Exmoor to find out more about its work providing activities for disabled people.