David Smith (Director of Economic Development) and Ross Gill (Associate Director of SQW) were in attendance for this item.
1. Mr Smith introduced the report which set out the draft Economic Recovery Plan and the work which was underway to develop specific actions, both for local delivery and for the engagement with Government as the Kent and Medway economy continued to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis. These included the development of potential initiatives (capital and revenue) that could support the delivery of the Economic Recovery Plan and which would help to place Kent in a strong position to respond to funding opportunities and requests from Government. A presentation by Mr Whiting (Cabinet Member for Economic Development), Mr Gill (Associate Director of SQW)and Mr Smith accompanied the report and set out the actions to support business and jobs, the economic impact of Covid-19 and analysis of data; and the next steps in taking forward the medium-term plan for renewal and resilience. Mr Smith informed Members that a Strategy was in the process of being developed, however, the focus of work was around identifying a list of priorities and key actions to help support the businesses and people of Kent who had been impacted by Covid-19.
2. The officer and Cabinet Member for Economic Development responded to comments and questions as follows:
(a) In response to comments raised around the ability to adapt to change and the flexibility of the Economic Recovery Plan to respond to the frequent changes that were being brought forward by Government, Mr Smith informed the Committee that the Plan had a lifespan of twelve to eighteen months. Therefore, whilst the current set of actions responded to the current needs of the county, there was scope to refresh the document over its lifespan to identify new measures. Mr Smith informed Members that three new loan schemes were due to be launched, and again, throughout the duration of those schemes, Kent County Council would be able to draw upon the lessons learned around what companies required loans, what support would be required from KCC to support those companies; and then use that information to adapt the Economic Recovery Plan.
(b) Mrs Cooper (Corporate Director of Growth, Environment and Transport) and Mr Smith responded to comments concerning Brexit and confirmed that KCC had moved into the planning phase of the UKs transition away from the EU. Mr Smith noted that whilst the Economic Recovery Plan was not part of the Brexit planning, through extensive joined up working with businesses and public authorities across England, both plans were complimentary in how they addressed the need for KCC to invest its resources into the people and businesses of Kent to ensure economic growth.
(c) Mr Whiting assured Members that engagement with district councils and partner agencies had been crucial in the development of the Economic Recovery Plan and this was apparent at the Leaders webinar which welcomed over 400 participants, all of whom had supported and continued to play a significant part in the development and implementation of the Kent and Medway Economic Recovery Plan. Mrs Coper supplemented this by reassuring Members that work was also being done in conjunction with colleagues in Children’s, Young People and Education, those within the freight industry and those within customs which included the potential development of a customs training programme due to increased staff demand.
(d) Mrs Cooper informed Members that the Kent Resilience Forum (KRF) did not have a separate Economic Recovery Plan. The KRF was a multi-agency gathering established to bring together planning and response to emergencies. The Economic Recovery Plan for Kent and Medway as set out within the report was led by KCC.
(e) Mr Smith confirmed that the details of the Infrastructure plan were yet to be finalised, upon which, they would be submitted to Government. Mr Whiting was persistent in his message to Ministers in explaining the needs of the Kent and Medway economy and pursued Government support.
(f) In response to concerns relating to young people in Kent and prospective job opportunities, Mr Smith endorsed the need for apprenticeship programmes and assured Members that KCC was incorporating the economic and social needs of young people within the Economic Recovery Plan. Mr Smith reminded Members that there were various strands of work going into the Plan, all of which would help to ensure a robust, and futureproof, economic framework for both Kent and Medway.
(g) Mr Smith assured the Committee that communication, confidence and trust with officers, Members and partner agencies was key, and this formed one of the five channels of activity within the Economic Recovery Plan. Mr Smith acknowledged that there would be periods of trial and error in terms of the media platforms used and how information was disseminated throughout the county but affirmed to Members that KCC listened and engaged with all groups.
3. Mr Whiting thanked the Committee for their comments and provided assurance that all Members would continue to be listened to and receive regular updates as plans progressed.
4. It was RESOLVED that, the actions to be prioritised in supporting economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, be endorsed.