Martyn Riley (Programme Manager) was in attendance for this item
1. Mr Smith introduced the report which outlined a proposal to extend the operation of the Kent and Medway Business Fund until 31 March 2023.
2. In response to members’ questions, Mr Smith said the fund had originally consisted of separate pots for north, east, and west Kent and, at that time decisions, about the allocation of funding had involved members from the district councils in those area. Subsequently, the size of the fund was reduced, and a decision made to streamline the decision-making process. The streamlined process included participation in the advisory board’s discussions by representatives of each of those areas. North Kent was represented by a councillor from Medway, West Kent by the Leader of Sevenoaks District Council and East Kent by Mr Lymer (the KCC member for Dover West). Mr Smith said he would discuss the question of member representation with the chairman of the advisory board but that it did not affect the proposed decision being considered by the cabinet committee today.
3. In response to further questions, Mr Smith said the Kent and Medway Business Fund provided loans or made equity investments in companies rather than giving grants. He said that in the early life of the fund, grants had been awarded to three companies who were seeking to re-locate to Kent, however, it became apparent that interest free loans repayable over six or seven years were just as effective in attracting firms to Kent. In addition, the repayment of loans created an income which could be recycled into more loans increasing the number of businesses that could be assisted. He said that the advisory board’s terms of reference were modelled on the terms of reference of the Industrial Development Advisory Board which advised the Secretary of State for Business on government financial assistance to business under the Industry Act 1972 and the Industrial Development Act 1982. The membership of the board was drawn from the business sector and included those with specialist knowledge of investment and technology. The board members were not paid and did not receive expenses. One member received a fee for some specialist finance work he conducted for the board, but this was separate from his role as a board member. Mr Smith said that one of the members of the board was the head of a charitable organisation and he undertook to look again at the composition of the board.
4. Mr Smith said that the EQiA had been included with the report as a matter of record and, although it did not specifically refer to deafness, he assured the member that all protected characteristics were considered when administering the fund. He also confirmed that a company’s policies relating to the environment, social value as well as traineeships and apprenticeships were considered as part of the application process, but the biggest determining factor was the extent to which a company applying for a loan would create new jobs in Kent.
5. Mr Smith undertook to provide the cabinet committee with information relating to the number of companies, with women as directors or chief executives, that had received loans as well as the number of successful applications from Gravesham.
6. Mr Smith said that the Covid-19 pandemic had affected different sectors of business differently. The construction industry had been able to re-start during the summer, but it had not been possible for the hospitality and cultural sectors to re-open. A £6m fund had been launched in August and as some money remained unallocated, the launch of a second round of funding was being considered. The terms and conditions of the re-launched round would enable companies, which might not have been able to meet government conditions for government-backed loans, to apply for loans to support job creation.
7. Resolved to endorse the proposed decision of the Cabinet Member for Economic Development to delegate the authority to the Director of Economic Development:
a) To enter into relevant contracts, legal agreements and put appropriate arrangements in place required to implement this decision allowing Kent, Medway, and Thurrock Companies to access grants, loans or equity investments from the Kent and Medway Business Fund until the 31 March 2023.
b) That these grants, loans, and equity investments would be financed from recycled loan and equity repayments previously obtained from companies that received funds via the former Regional Growth Fund and Kent and Medway Business Fund programmes.
c) These investments shall be subject to the same rules, criteria and management/administrative charges as investments that have been allocated under the existing Kent and Medway Business Fund scheme.