“Attracting investment in to Kent depends on putting the right infrastructure in place”

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This country has for too long, relied on excessive national public expenditure. If the country is to return to growth, we will rely upon unlocking the ingenuity, innovation and investment of the private sector economies.

Many say this means that government just needs to get out of the way – as Ronald Reagan said, “government isn’t the solution to the problem, it is the problem”. This isn’t my view. In the last few decades, Kent County Council has formed a beneficial relationship with business and local and national government – one that is delivering real benefits to the Kent economy.

On Friday, over 300 business leaders packed Margate’s Winter Gardens. They were there to find out how their business can potentially benefit from the new £35 million Government-Regional Growth Fund. The Expansion East Kent programme will offer interest-free loan finance to establish new businesses, to support existing business to grow and to encourage new business to locate in the districts of Thanet, Shepway, Dover and Canterbury. Businesses can find out more at www.kent.gov.uk/expansion.

This is just part of a programme of practical support for business growth. In addition, £5m has been allocated to work with Network Rail to improve lines speeds for high-speed trains from Ashford to Canterbury and Ramsgate - bringing Margate to within an hour of the City.

Discovery Park, the Pfizer site at Sandwich, has been designated an Enterprise Zone, offering 100 per cent business rate discounts. All this investment has helped so far to retain over 800 jobs at Sandwich, with the prospect of many more to come – the result of local government, national government, local MPs and local business working together to a shared objective.

Across the county, pragmatic and targeted public investment is creating new jobs. For example, at Kings Hill, a joint venture between KCC and the private sector has transformed over two decades a redundant, bleak former RAF airfield in East Malling into one of the south’s premier business parks, employing almost 6,000 people – and the county council has already netted £35m for the council taxpayers of Kent.

At Margate, public investment in the award-winning Turner Contemporary gallery has supported the creation of 35 businesses, attracting a new generation of visitors to the town. Through Locate in Kent, KCC’s inward investment arm, we’re attracting new investors in growing sectors, such as offshore renewable energy.

Business also needs a skills system that truly responds to commercial and business needs. Earlier this month, I launched the Kent Employment Programme, offering financial support for small businesses taking on apprentices. Find out more at www.kent.gov.uk/apprentices. Our vocational skills centres are providing training in cutting-edge industry-standard facilities in areas such as construction, mechanical engineering, social care and catering.

Attracting investment in to Kent depends on putting the right infrastructure in place. Securing a Lower Thames Crossing is vital for the long-term future of our economy and we are developing solutions to deliver the crossing at zero net cost to the public purse. More immediately, nearly £10m in Government investment, match funded by KCC, is being ploughed into the broadband infrastructure essential for modern business communications to improve good connectivity in the county.

Of course, there are times when government needs to get out of the way. At a time when businesses face tough choices, we must cut red tape where it is impeding progress. So we must maintain an honest dialogue with business to really understand the needs of Kent’s wealth creators.

Last week’s Kent 2020 business event at Detling demonstrated the dynamism of Kent’s businesses and the strength of partnership between the private and public sectors. By working together, industry and government are setting an example to the rest of the country. In Kent, together we’re stronger.

Businesses can find out more about the Expansion East Kent loans at www.kent.gov.uk/expansion.

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