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RESOLVED that the minutes of the Meeting held on 10 December 2013 be agreed as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
The Chairman reported that he had been informed by the Leader of the UKIP group that they would not be taking part in this Select Committee.
(1) The Chairman welcomed Mr Moys to the meeting and invited him to give the Committee background information on the work of the International Affairs team operated in the County Council, before answering questions from Members of the Committee.
(2) Mr Moys referred to the paper previously circulated to the Committee on the European Funding opportunities over the period 2014 – 20. Mr Moys explained that the Team had overall responsibility for international activities in KCC which included influencing European and Government policy. Recently there had been an increased focus on trying to support Kent’s export activity especially that of small and medium enterprises (SME’s). This included the Kent International Business (KIB) initiative which helped to fund trade visits etc to assist SME’s in accessing European markets. There was a need to work with partners especially the southeast LEP and European partners to make sure that Kent accesses its fair share of European funding. All the Team’s activities supported the County Council’s core objectives e.g. Bold Steps for Kent, Unlocking the Potential or the Environmental Strategy. Mr Moys confirmed that before any funding project was submitted for European funding it went through a Member approval process to make sure that the outputs were what the County Council wanted.
(3) Mr Moys set out 4 priorities for IAG’s work:
· Securing European funding for projects across the County Council’s business activities - this included influencing the development of new funding streams up to 2020 to enable Kent to bid for work closely linked to the work of KCC’s directorates and other partner organisations, such as Visit Kent or District Councils, and securing KCC representation on EU decision- making bodies.
· Supporting Kent businesses to trade and export with Europe, especially SME’s, including with support from European Funding such as the Interreg ‘2-SeasTrade’ project.
· Policy Development and influencing – KCC had, for example, influenced the government to secure a good percentage of European funding (coming to the county via the South East Local Enterprise Partnership) to spend in the County. In 2014 – 2020 this would be £165m (compared to £20 million under the current South East ERDF programme). Dafydd Pugh would also, for example, outline the successful lobbying activity with our Brussels networks and European partners to ensure that Eurostar continued to stop in Kent.
· Partnership working – This was a key priority as new programme came on stream it was important to develop European (e.g. Nord-Pas de Calais) and UK partners (e.g. Essex via the LEP) to support EU funding bids. A recent delegation to KCC from the Province of West Flanders would be followed-up by a ‘match-making’ meeting between their respective Directorates to develop ideas for future joint projects in areas of mutual interest.
(4) In response to comments from Members Mr Moys stated that he was pleased that the amount of work, often unseen, that went into securing European funding was recognised. .For example, successful lobbying for inclusion of North Kent in the previous URBAN II ... view the full minutes text for item 5.
(1) The Chairman welcomed Ruth Wood to the meeting and invited her to give a short presentation on Tourism in Kent including information on European funded schemes. She then answered questions from members.
(2) Ruth stated that Tourism in Kent was worth £3.4m to the Kent economy and supported 64,000 jobs and involved 4,000 businesses; it was one of the few sectors showing job growth. Ruth gave a brief background to Visit Kent and set out its funding streams; it had received since 2002 14% of its funding from European funding steams. Ruth undertook to supply the figures for Visit Kent funding which were shown as percentages on the slide.
Action - Ruth Wood (now completed)
(3) Ruth introduced slides which gave examples of European funded projects which Visit Kent has led on, these included “Greet the World” set up to create a legacy from the 2012 London Games (value to Kent – 2 million Euros) , and the CAST and SEACONOMICS, projects to promote the Kent Coast (value to Kent – 2.2 million Euros).
(4) Ruth referred to the COOL project which supported rural tourism. Master classes had been provided for businesses and the funding supported a business advisor.
(5) Ruth explained that the majority of the projects were supported by Interreg funding, 2 Seas Trade or Channel programme funding. On a smaller scale Ruth referred to the Kent Breakfast and Hamper project which had facilitated links across providers of accommodation and Kent Producers. Although it only had a financial value of £40k it had had a great impact in promoting Kent produce.
Question – What are you doing to avoid duplication across the various public bodies in relation to securing funding for the same services.
(6) Ruth acknowledged that duplication had been a challenge; part of the role of Visit Kent was to communicate at various levels and to share project ideas so that for example District Councils knew what Visit Kent were planning to do in their area and could either work with them as a partner or focus their efforts on another project.
Question – We work closely with Northern France and the Low Countries, but this is a double edged sword as they have similar coastal attractions as Kent, what are you doing to make sure that we gain tourism and that visitors stay in Kent?
(7) Ruth stated that Visit Kent considered their main tourist competitors to be the budget airlines providing low cost flights to Europe e.g. Prague or sun destinations rather than near Europe. Kent benefited from its close proximity to Europe and being a gateway to London and the rest of the UK. Visit Kent produced and promoted 48 hour itineraries for visitors to encourage people to spend a couple of nights in Kent and Nord Pas De Calais combining two destinations in one holiday.
Question – is it possible to monitor what success we have in attracting visitors from Europe e.g. France, Belgium or Holland to visit ... view the full minutes text for item 6.
Mr Dafydd Pugh (Head of Brussels Office, KCC) and Mr Stephen Gasche (Principal Transport Planner, Rail, KCC) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mr Pugh briefly presented the Brussels Office which is a part of the International Affairs Group. There is a team of three, two Kent County Council (KCC) employees and one student: the office has a close connection with the University of Kent and each year welcomed a student from the university to work with them. The team’s work is closely linked to KCC’s corporate priorities. Business planning reflects priorities that were set out to implement the international strategy and these included not only policy development and influence but also the need to focus on links with business and provide more support for project development. In this latter respect, the team in Brussels have become actively involved in supporting KCC colleagues not only in setting up projects but also in their actual delivery.
2. Mr Gasche had worked with Mr Pugh and his team for 3 years and one of their current EU-funded projects was the Regions of Connected Knowledge (RoCK) Project. KCC’s involvement is two-fold: one part looks at how to provide an improved rail service between Ebbsfleet, Ashford and Europe. The other part of the RoCK Project is a sub-project called the Ashford Spurs which looks at resignalling a short stretch of track so new-build international trains can serve Ashford. This is key to Ashford retaining international connectivity.
3. The Chairman asked Mr Pugh and Mr Gasche to present the Regions of Connected Knowledge Project in more detail.
4. Mr Pugh explained the background to KCC’s involvement in the project. KCC has had a close interest in international rail services in the County since the Channel Tunnel was opened in 1994. When Eurostar decided to reduce services from Ashford International Station in the mid-2000s, KCC’s Brussels Office, which had been part of the campaign to retain services, worked with the Brussels office liaising with French colleagues to maintain the service from Ashford. International rail appeared within the Council’s ‘Growth without Gridlock’ transport vision for the next 20 years.
5. Mr Gasche explained that part one of the RoCK project’s look at rail services between Kent and Europe had investigated if a stand-alone inter-regional rail service was viable. Stage two looked at scenarios and timetable options that would allow Eurostar to provide better connections between Kent Stations and the continent. This was work in progress and the next meeting of the RoCK partners was due in May 2014. Eurostar had been reticent about the plans but Mr Pugh and Mr Gasche had a good working relationship with Eurostar officers. Members considered that the ability to influence went hand in hand with the ability to secure European funding.
6. In response to a question about why the signalling problems at Ashford had arisen, Mr Gasche explained that, when the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) was planned, the original route through Ashford was ... view the full minutes text for item 7.
Erica Russell – Director BSK – CIC
1. Ms Russell give a brief introduction into her work experience, BSK had been in existence since 2002 and had 25 employees. They worked with small businesses to support them to grow and develop their funding and technology. BSK operate the HighGrowthKent coaching team, which was funded by KCC, to offer tangible support for ambitious, growth focused businesses. BSK are involved in a number of projects, including life programmes, Interreg, Leonardo, EEN EACI across Europe and regional ERDF/ESF European funding led to skills development, job creation and international trade.
2. In response to a question about the use of tidal power in Kent Ms Russell confirmed that work was being undertaken at Isle of Wight Council into tidal power but that the technology and research needed to be brought into the South East region to allow Kent to progress, she believed there were currently no major companies in Kent working on tidal renewable energy.
3. Bearing in mind Kent had a Small Medium Enterprise (SME) economy a member asked how receptive Kent SMEs were to environmental ideas. Ms Russell explained that in 2006 there was little response or interest; ideas had to be framed within a business context, to increase sales for the business and reduce cost. It had been found that legislation was the least influential factor.
4. Ms Russell explained that BSK worked closely with Greenwich University and grants were offered through a consortium of £50,000 for feasibility studies. Innovation vouchers were also available of £4,000-worth of university research to support projects.
5. In response to a question about the use of offshore wind energy Ms Russell explained that a mix of renewable energy was used, offshore wind was part of this. There were more SMEs involved in offshore wind and this was slowly increasing. Swale Skills centre ran courses for apprentices in the energy sector.
6. It was important to find a way of tapping into European funding to help SMEs, and a member asked how KCC could best support SMEs in Kent. Ms Russell explained that KCC could help in a combination of ways, the Regional Growth Fund was a very positive support to allow funding to grow; coaching and support had also proved successful. KCC’s work on climate change adaptations was once of the best in Europe, it was important that the funding structure had support from KCC behind it. Ms Russell could then be commissioned to sell to the SMEs.
7. In response to a question about the level of awareness of European funding Ms Russell explained that the level was currently low however caution was advised about suddenly raising awareness. EU funding was complex to manage and KCC’s work with the RGF had been good because KCC were able to manage the complexity of the funding structures. It was possible for SMEs to be served and represented by KCC. Most SMEs were not worried about where the funding was coming from ... view the full minutes text for item 8.