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A Kent and Medway partnership is a local solution to enterprise issues

Tue 12 October 2010, 5:58 pm

Imagine that you are at the bar of a pub and the person perched on the stool next to you starts talking about sub national economic development re-organisations. (Sourced from here.)
To put it bluntly, it's unlikely anyone would blame you if you made your excuses and left. After all, it's not exactly an attention-grabbing topic.
Now if that person had wanted to talk about the future of Kent and Medway in simple terms that would have been a different matter. That is why I'm going to tell you why this is such an important subject that will affect every person in Kent and Medway.

The coalition government has decided to scrap the current top-down, centrally imposed Regional Development Agencies (RDA) - these are public, unelected, bodies that cover huge areas and gain funding for businesses, infrastructure and regeneration in their area.

Instead, the Government wants to replace them with locally formed and led Local Enterprise Partnerships (or LEPs if you want another funny sounding title) consisting of councils and businesses.

These would work for smaller populations and areas, and ministers believe they will "radically reshape the way business and government interact at the local level".

In line with the Government's enthusiasm for 'localism', we have grabbed the initiative and proposed a bold new partnership between councils and businesses in Kent and Medway.

Other bids have also been put forward such as a LEP covering the whole of Kent and Essex, one for Bexley, Dartford and Gravesham, and even one following part of the Thameslink train route stretching from Brighton through Gatwick to Croydon.

Medway Council's bid, supported by north and west Kent district councils as well as the majority of Kent's MPs, has been put forward because we know it would be big enough to influence Whitehall, but small enough to deal with our local challenges.

It would cover a geographic and natural economic area with a population of 1.6 million people - larger than any other UK city except London but based in one county, keeping it manageable.

This new partnership would aim to improve our infrastructure, deliver new development, improve skills and attract investment.

The case for investment in Kent and Medway is strong. With the country's largest port and international rail connections, this is the gateway to Britain.

The institutional infrastructure is in place and the county is recognised as a brand for investors and visitors and as a powerful source of identity for local residents. This is not an artificial region: it is a stable, organic, county. 

In addition, the area has potential for huge economic growth that will not only benefit Kent, but the nation as a whole.

The county contains two growth areas of national importance: the Thames Gateway and Ashford, as well as growth points at Dover and Maidstone.

It has major sites for economic expansion, such as Manston, in Thanet, Ebbsfleet valley, and the port of Dover.

And it has emerging growth sectors such as renewable energy in east and north Kent and media industries in Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells.

In addition, Medway is undergoing unprecedented regeneration. It has four universities with more than 10,000 students and is the largest conurbation in the South East.

In all, the county has the potential to provide 130,000 extra jobs and 140,000 new homes over the next 20 years.

Last week, 12 of Kent's 17 MPs wrote to business and community ministers Vince Cable and Eric Pickles voicing their support for a Kent and Medway LEP. Another MP has already spoken in favour of it.

The final decision rests with Mr Cable and Mr Pickles. We can demonstrate that our local partnership can provide local solutions to promote enterprise. Hopefully they will let us prove this.

• Cllr Alan Jarrett, the deputy leader of Medway Council

Read the full story here.

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