Ensuring the business voice is heard when it comes to the area’s economic growth has seen South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) join forces with Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce.
Working with local businesses
As part of SELEP’s work to develop its Strategic Economic Plan for the area, nearly 100 business leaders and representatives from local authorities came together to give their views on the state of the current economy as the country approaches Brexit.
SELEP represents businesses and communities across Kent, Essex, East Sussex, Medway, Southend and Thurrock, and is responsible for driving forward the area’s economy and engaging with Government.
Our Strategic Economic Plan
As one of 38 Local Enterprise Partnerships across the country, SELEP is actively helping the Government deliver its Industrial Strategy through its own locally-focussed Strategic Economic Plan.
Christian Brodie, Chairman of SELEP, said: “We have successfully secured nearly £740m from the Government and European Union to deliver our vision for growth and to invest in skills, business support, infrastructure, and housing. “As a business-led organisation, the event was an excellent opportunity to let local companies know what is being done on their behalf by SELEP and partners to secure economic growth.
“SELEP’s Strategic Economic Plan will help us present the most compelling case to Government for greater investment and funding support which is why we want local businesses to help shape our plans.”
Skills, a key issue
High on the agenda during the meeting held in Ashford was the ongoing local skills gap being experienced by businesses, and the current road and rail infrastructure of the area. Both were identified as the top two barriers to business growth.
When asked at the event:
- 70% of respondents saw the lack of relevant local skills as the biggest barrier to growth
- 53% considering the problem to be the current road and rail infrastructure.
The other key issues included:
- the lack of clarity on policies affecting business from government (42%)
- lack of commercial space (37%).
When asked what businesses need to survive, innovate and grow, 73% felt that digital and mobile connectivity was the most important issue.
Christian Brodie, Chairman of SELEP, said: “The results compare closely with feedback we’ve received from businesses across Essex and East Sussex, and match the priorities already identified in the work to date on our Strategic Economic Plan.
“Given the significance of Kent’s transport corridors to local business and the national economy, it was not surprising to see local firms focus on improving the road and rail network, especially with Brexit looming.
“The challenge for SELEP is how to improve the economic productivity of the area and that requires nurturing innovation and skills. To achieve this we need to build a business infrastructure in the South East that is fit to drive UK plc, and that includes our digital connectivity, which is essential to energising our communities.”
On a more positive note, 58% were either 100% confident or optimistic about the future and that their respective businesses will be okay. However, the remainder were concerned over the level of uncertainties, but think they can ride out any storm, with one in 10 thinking they need a better understanding of how to be more resilient.
Speaking after the event held in Ashford, Jo James, Chief Executive of Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce, said: “Our proximity to London is a double-edged sword. Thanks to High Speed rail services across a large part of our county, we benefit from excellent connectivity to a global city. However, these attractive journey times to and from London do put pressure on businesses when it comes to recruiting and retaining skilled staff.
“Half of the attendees said that if we are to make the most of our proximity to London, everything must be done to inspire confidence in the private sector to invest in Kent. “With house prices in London way above those here, many of the delegates made the connection between providing affordable quality homes locally and helping business attract skilled employees out of London.”
Work on the Strategic Economic Plan will be presented to the SELEP strategic board later in the year.