Election 2015 England

Election 2015: Staff at a County Durham gin distillery share their views

Factory, Britain, Office

Politicians of all persuasions are in the final days of election canvassing, travelling to towns and cities across England hoping to boost their chances at the ballot box. While they do that, BBC News is visiting workplaces to gauge the mood of those who matter most - the voters.

In an industrial unit in Langley Park, a small former colliery town on a valley floor three miles from Durham city centre, is Durham Distillery.

Founded by former civil servant Jon Chadwick, the gin distillery employs three people full-time and a further two part-timers, plus Mr Chadwick's father Arthur who acts as a delivery driver.

Image copyright Durham Distillery
Image caption Durham Distillery is expected to produce more than 20,000 bottles of gin and vodka this year

And the result of the election could have serious consequences for the company, especially as far as its burgeoning EU exports go.

Arguments over a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU have made Mr Chadwick uneasy.

Conservative leader David Cameron has promised a referendum by 2017, as have the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party, while Labour's Ed Miliband and the Scottish National Party oppose such a vote.

The 47-year-old managing director said: "We are a small business just starting to export but we could end up in a two year period of uncertainty about whether we will be in the EU or be leaving it.

"Leaving the EU would be disastrous for us, but in the meantime we're asking is it worth while putting resources into going into Europe to create trade links when in two years we might not be part of it."

The EU question has at least provided one solid answer for Mr Chadwick - he won't be supporting the UK Independence Party.

He said: "UKIP plan to get out of the EU, I could not live with that."

Image caption Jon Chadwick's main election concerns are future involvement in the EU, VAT and bank lending

The distillery produced its first batch in February last year and went on to fill 10,000 bottles in 2014.

Mr Chadwick estimates they will sell 20,000 bottles this year, with large export orders going to Spain and Japan as well as selling locally in Durham City and Fenwick's department store in Newcastle.

But like any small start up it is facing challenges - and the next Government's decision on taxes and rates will be an important one for Mr Chadwick.

Each bottle of gin costs the company £7.80 in excise duty plus VAT, which was raised by the last Government from 17.5% to 20%.

Mr Chadwick said: "Tax is a good thing which pays for the sensible stuff we need for society.

"But in the last few years we have had higher levels of VAT and business rates but reductions in corporation tax and higher bands of income tax.

"The rise in VAT has been a disaster for start up businesses, every increase takes more money out of my cash flow and puts it into George Osborne's - but for large established businesses higher tax takes out their competitors.

"We want to move in to Durham City but a combination of high business rates and property companies who charge unrealistic rents make that impossible."

Image copyright Durham Distillery
Image caption Durham Distillery employs the youngest female distiller in the country

While he wants to see tax addressed, he says he knows it cannot be cut.

Mr Chadwick said: "Successive governments handed out too many tax cuts, the funding for which was based on estimates of future economic growth.

"When that growth did not happen they were left with a hole in their finances. It would therefore be unrealistic to say they could make further tax cuts, there's no money for that, and anyone who tells you that they could make tax cuts is not believable."

Banks lending to small businesses is another issue Mr Chadwick says the previous Government failed to sort out.

He said: "For small businesses in the UK, the credit crunch never ended, banks need to put more in to lending to small businesses and less into high volume high risks trades."

Image caption At 17, Hollie Clarkson is too young to vote, but she says she wants to experience more before she takes part in an election

At 17 years old, the company's administration apprentice Hollie Clarkson is too young to vote - but she wouldn't want to even if she could.

She said: "I do not really understand all of that yet, I think maybe even 18 is too young to vote because many 18-year-olds don't really know what they are talking about.

"Obviously that's not the case with everyone but for me maybe if I have lived a lot more then I would be better able to know what I am voting for."

Image caption Arthur Chadwick has been a lifelong Labour voter and has no intention of changing that on 7 May

Mr Chadwick's father Arthur is one of the company's delivery drivers.

Just before he heads off to North Yorkshire with a boot full of gin, the 72-year-old has time for a quick assessment of the election.

Like many County Durham men of his generation, there is only one party he will consider voting for. He has always put his cross in the Labour box since he was old enough to vote.

And though her reign as prime minister ended almost 25 years ago, his loathing of Margaret Thatcher and her closure of the area's coal mines is as strong as ever.

Mr Chadwick said: "I really believe we need a change, I do not care for Cameron at all and it seems clear he does not care for the North East with the way finances are distributed.

"We in the North have been absolutely hammered where in the rich south they have not been.

"I am still appalled at the way Margaret Thatcher dealt with the coal mining industry, people do not forget that.

"There were collieries around here which had huge reserves remaining and were running at big profits but they were closed, those communities destroyed."

Whoever ends up with the keys to 10 Downing Street, the copper pot 270 miles away in Durham will still be distilling.

Where the gin ends up however, could well depend on who holds the power.

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