The Cabinet Member for Economic Development is asked to:
a) Confirm the participation of Kent County Council in the Straits Committee, a new, voluntary partnership between Kent County Council and neighbouring Belgian, Dutch and French local authorities to pursue lasting good neighbourly relations and create opportunities for mutual benefit for businesses, residents, local stakeholders and communities;
b) Approve funding of £100,000 from reserves for activities in connection with the Straits Committee. These will include support to joint initiatives on economic development, tackling climate change, supporting young people and any initiatives in other policy areas as agreed within the Straits Committee, the development of a strategy for the Straits Committee, the hosting of a Straits conference in Kent and the setting up of a small project support scheme; and
c) Agree delegated authority for management of that funding to the Director of Economic Development.
Kent County Council has longstanding memoranda of understanding with the French Hauts-de-France region, the Pas-de-Calais Département, and the Belgian Province of West Flanders. These relationships have led to many joint initiatives over time – often supported by cross-border funding mechanisms - in areas such as trade, tourism, education, social care, transport and the environment.
Over the last three years, meetings between Kent County Council, its continental partners and other continental authorities have shown a desire to continue local-to-local cooperation where it may be of mutual benefit. Kent was encouraged by the UK diplomatic service to formalise this into a new relationship and, on 5th February 2020, Kent County Council signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with neighbouring French, Belgian and Dutch local authorities to create the Straits Committee.
The MOU commits the partners to develop a shared, forward-looking vision for the Straits area where cooperation may achieve tangible results. This may be in any area but the partners will pay particular attention to joint work on economic development and fluidity of trade, addressing climate change and clean growth, and supporting young people.
The MOU setting up the Straits Committee commits each authority to designating a cabinet member to take part in a cross-authority working group that will meet up to four times a year. This working group, known as the “Executive Committee”, is supported by officers in each participating authority who will prepare meetings and follow up agreed actions. In addition, the MOU also commits the signatory authorities to holding an annual public conference that will be open widely to stakeholders from across the Straits area and will look at opportunities for the area. The first conference is planned for 2021 and is due to take place in Kent.
· Do nothing: While the MOU does not place any legal requirements on Kent County Council (KCC), the failure to adopt this decision would call into question KCC’s ongoing involvement in the Straits Committee and ability to support joint initiatives, including related spend activity. This would lead to a weakening of relations with KCC’s European partners at a time when the UK is seeking close ties and friendly cooperation with neighbouring countries.
· Adopt a decision approving Kent’s involvement in the Straits Committee and associated budget (Preferred option): This would align KCC’s participation in the Straits Committee with KCC’s governance and provide a mechanism for supporting joint initiatives with spend activity.
How the proposed decision meets the objectives of ‘Increasing Opportunities, Improving Outcomes: Kent County Council’s Strategic Statement (2015-2020)’:
The Straits Committee forms an integral part of Kent’s policy response to its neighbourhood following the UK’s exit from the European Union. The creation of this new, member-led committee will help local authorities on both sides of the Dover straits maintain good neighbourly relations, navigate issues arising to help keep our border fluid, support our economies and tackle the grand challenges that we share.
Decision type: Non-key
Decision status: For Determination
Division affected: (All Division);
Notice of proposed decision first published: 07/09/2020
Decision due: Not before 6th Oct 2020 by Cabinet Member for Economic Development
Reason: In order that the proposed decision can be published for a minimum of 28 days, in accordance with statutory requirements
Lead member: Cabinet Member for Economic Development
Lead director: David Smith
Department: Growth, Environment & Transport
Contact: Dafydd Pugh, Head of the Kent Brussels Office Tel: 03000 417157 Email: Dafydd.Pugh@kent.gov.uk Tel: 00 32 2 504 0750.
The proposed decision was discussed and endorsed by the Growth, Economic Development and Communities Cabinet Committee on 25th September 2020. A record of the proceedings will be included in the decision paperwork which the Cabinet Member will be asked to sign.
Financial implications: £100,000, funded from reserves.
Legal implications: The Memorandum of Understanding setting up the Straits Committee does not create any legal obligations on Kent County Council.
Equalities implications: No issues have been identified at this stage. This will be kept under review as the Straits Committee activities develop.