(Barbara Cooper, Corporate Director for Growth, Environment and Transport, and David Smith, Director of Economic Development, were in attendance for this item)
(1) Mike Whiting reported that KCC had responded to support business and employment.
Covid-19 had multi-faceted impacts and these impacts were considered likely to persist. A survey conducted by Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce showed that more than half of businesses felt that their ability to trade as viable entities had been put under threat. There had been fall in output in Kent between March and May 2020 worth an estimated £2.3 billion. Some sectors, such as hospitality were hardest hit during the first lockdown. The continuation of people working from home and decline in public transport use had all had a wider impact on local supply chains and economies.
It was anticipated that there would be a 12% loss of GDP in 2021. Despite the introduction of the furlough scheme, universal credit claims had trebled since March and unemployment had risen dramatically between March and September. In response, KCC and partners in Medway had taken immediate actions such as setting up a business helpline and freezing repayments on business investment loans.
The Kent & Medway Economic Partnership had developed an economic renewal and resilience plan with 5 channels of work priorities which was to be reviewed in the autumn in line with developments nationally.
(2) Mr Smith reported that KCC had been leading the work on the Kent and Medway economic renewal and resilience plan with agreement and support with colleagues from the other local authorities, the universities and business community.
The 5 channels from the plan were outlined with measures to support businesses such as helplines, an economic dashboard and communications messages. It was agreed that the weblink for the economic dashboard would be shared. There had been a significant increase in interest in ‘Locate in Kent’ with 118 projects in the pipeline.
It was reported that Mr Whiting was an executive member of the Straits Committee which was planning for the new relationship with neighbouring departments in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and France and work was focussed on the key challenges following the ending of the transition arrangements for the UK’s exit from the European Union.
It was also reported that the Leader was chairman of an Employment Taskforce which had been meeting with key partners to look at Kickstart Placement and Apprenticeships, skills hubs and academies. The taskforce was working to the Kent & Medway Employment Action Plan.
(3) Ms Cooper reported that the traffic management plans were aiming to keep Kent ‘open for business’. Traffic management plans were still being refined but work was being done so that ‘real time’ information would be available showing congestion hotspots. Work was being done with hauliers in east Kent to make sure they have their own permits so they are not caught in Operation Brock or traffic management plans. This had been extended to business in Faversham and Teynham in recognition that there were businesses there which fed into the port at Dover and Eurotunnel.
The Trading Standards Business Advice Team had been in communication with businesses with key messages around plans for departure from the EU about labelling, authorised representation, etc, and an event about food and drink exports was being held. A full report was to be brought to the Growth, Economic Development and Communities Cabinet Committee.
In response to the presentations, the following points were raised:
· Excellent work had been done to support local enterprises through this time of transition. Driving future growth would be critical moving forward and Kent had seen investment in areas like the creative sectors, in life sciences and infrastructure. Wherever such investment was taking place, there would need to be opportunities for local people and the workforce.
· Highways England had agreed that the quick moveable barrier on M20 was put in place by 29 December, ready for the ending of the transition period. It was also highlighted that there was some potential for issues relating to Covid-19 and issues relating to the transition arrangements to be conflated.