I attended a dinner for Kent Ambassadors last evening at the House of Lords. The Kent Ambassadors are a group of political and business leaders from the county who in their daily lives, influence and shape many facets of Kent’s present and future. Last night was an opportunity to brief them on the state of our county’s economy, and to outline our plans for the coming year.
I approached my speech with some trepidation, as I followed on from KCC Leader Paul Carter, Miles Templeman the Director General of the Institute of Directors; Fraser Thompson, the outgoing Chairman of the IoD’s Kent Branch, and Roger House, Regional Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.
It’s always quite daunting to follow such accomplished and interesting speakers, and speaking to such an influential audience was an added pressure. But I outlined the journey of growth which Kent has taken over the last twenty years – 100,000 more residents; 60,000 more homes and 130,000 more cars on our roads – and then attempted to set out the future challenges. By just 2026, our predictions are that we’ll see 188,000 more people living in the county; 138,000 more homes, and around a quarter of a million more cars on Kent’s roads.
Our rural businesses, which at 140,000 workers employ around one in four of Kent’s workforce, need better transport links and more accessible broadband to survive and thrive. Our tourism sector, which across the county employs around 55,000 people and generates in advance of £2.5bn each year, will benefit from the KCC-funded ‘Kent Contemporary’ marketing campaign next year.
But there is enormous potential too. Yesterday saw contracts worth £2bn signed for the London Array – the world’s largest offshore wind farm in the Estuary between Kent and Essex. The Government also agreed, through the Homes and Communities Agency the much-needed multi-million pound ‘Homes and Roads’ funding which will unblock development around Eastern Quarry in North Kent. And the new high speed ‘Javelin’ train is bringing Kent a few steps closer to London, with journey times of just seventeen minutes from Ebbsfleet to St Pancras.
But at the end of the day it’s about people, and as I stressed last night it’s our duty to make sure that in areas of high – and in some cases second and third generation – unemployment and worklessness, we put in place programmes to bring real skills, real jobs and tangible prosperity.
And the only way we’ll achieve that is is we can draw together the public sector, the private and voluntary sectors, the representative business organisations and those who, like the Kent Ambassadors, are united in a common cause.
The future prosperity of Kent – this great County of ours.