The directors of a company representing business interests in Dartmouth have all resigned.
Dartmouth and District Chamber of Trade’s three directors have all quit, leaving the limited company with no directors.
Documents posted online by Companies House last week show directors David Cawley, Roger Jordan and Stephen Freeman resigned on January 25.
There was no official confirmation by the chamber of the resignations at the time – nothing on the chamber’s website or its Facebook page – and it appears the last time the chamber held a members’ meeting was at Dartmouth Yacht Club on Monday, June 26, last year. No special meeting or annual general meeting has been advertised.
Mr Cawley, who was chairman at the time of the resignations in January, insisted the chamber was still operational but not as a limited company. He explained: “We applied and sent the £10 to Companies House to have it [the company] removed at the same time as the resignations. This seems to be in order.”
Mr Cawley, who became a director of the chamber in March 2016, said: “We did a pretty honest job of trying to gather the business community together after the collapse of Dartmouth Business Improvement District.
“We held meetings, which are minuted, and arranged public events to help the town heal and start talking again.
“Furthermore, we attempted to get other people talking, and held surveys to gauge feelings in the town. The only real responses we got was on the Costa [coffee shop] question. The other responses were painfully rare on general Dartmouth business surveys.
“I, for one, believe we did a good service, and helped the town move on from bitterness over the BID – on both sides. The fact that we couldn’t get more support is a shame – but I would rather have tried and only been partially successful than to have never tried at all.
“The chamber has been on a cycle of relevance/activity for all the years I’ve known the town, and whilst we regret not having more support, we did give this a good shot. We had hoped to partner with other local chambers – but they seem to be rather cautious when it comes to Dartmouth, and wouldn’t commit to working with us to broaden our collective efforts.”
The chamber’s last filed accounts, to July 31, 2017, show it had assets valued at £648.
Mr Cawley added: “Our intention is to support the town crier with our remaining funds – in his brilliant efforts to market Dartmouth. [This] is the best use of our members’ funds we could think of in the absence of other relevant initiatives.
“We still believe there is a wonderful opportunity in Dartmouth for people to work together in business, and the Dartmouth Business Breakfast Club, as run by Alan Depledge, is a fantastic example of cohesion and networking in a more up-to-date Dartmouth.”
Paul Reach, a former chamber chairman, said its members should have been consulted over the decision, adding: “It has been a limited company since 1939, it’s a shame to lose that.”
He added: “It has been great to watch the community come together to defend our Cottage Hospital but my concern has always been, and always will be, the economy of the town and its many independent businesses, but sadly there has been little or no reaction to the threat to the economic health of the town arising from a dramatic drop in footfall, as measured by Springboard, over the last months, up to 34 per cent down on last year.
“The biggest fight I have had is in convincing people that the figures are genuine and accurate and represent a real threat to the community.
“The arguments I have heard include ‘every town centre is down on footfall’, an argument which usually comes from people who don’t run a business in the town. I agree but nowhere near the levels that we are experiencing in Dartmouth.
“Last week, the Westcountry footfall was up by 5.24 per cent, while Dartmouth’s footfall was down by 26 per cent.
“I believe we have a particular problem linked to a lack of national marketing and promotion of the town and, with the Mayflower 400 celebrations closing fast, we must respond to this challenge or miss the opportunity for a major economic boost to the town.
“In the past, the businesses of the town have come together under the umbrella of the Chamber of Trade to respond to this threat – perhaps the people that opposed the Business Improvement District (including Councillor Cawley) can now understand better why it was initiated.
“Now, however, the chamber of trade has remained silent and the reasons for this have now become apparent, thanks to some investigative journalism by the Editor of the Chronicle.”
He added: “Apart from the actions of the directors, it is deeply disappointing to find the businesses of Dartmouth are unable to come together to fight for the economic welfare of their town in the same way the community is fighting for its hospital.
“Of course, our health provision is important in a town with an ageing population but the economic health of the town could have a bigger long-term impact on the quality of life in this community if we don’t react in some way.
“I believe we must resurrect the Chamber of Trade now and work together to find a solution to the declining footfall before it is too late.”