Grow, grow, grow blossom

Growth is the only way to tackle the cost of living crunch and Kent is able to deliver it.

The economy has proven to be as unpredictable and disjointed post pandemic as it was during. The combination of Omicron popping up all over the place since December, ongoing global supply chain shortages and difficulties recruiting talent have all been a strain on business momentum.

However, these challenges could look like a walk in the park in the face of the highest inflation rate in decades. The Bank of England has tightened their stance and raised the base rate to 0.25% from 0.1% in December. Not surprisingly, as the latest Bank of England forecasts say inflation in the year to April 2022 is expected to be around 6%. Adding more pain to households not on fixed rate mortgages.

According to the insurer Scottish Widows, high inflation means UK households suffered the sharpest fall in the amount of disposable income for almost eight years. Largely, but not exclusively due to energy bills, we see headlines like this daily “Energy bill and tax rises will hammer households by an average £1,200.” And the pain is set to continue, businesses expect further price rises and the Institute of Directors say government is “making matters worse” by raising national insurance contributions in April.

Now, while the government will take steps on forthcoming energy price increases and taxes, we all know there isn’t a magic money tree. So, the ultimate solution for tackling the cost living is going to be economic growth. The long-awaited government white paper on Levelling Up is sure to include bright ideas on how to expand the economy; however, Kent and Medway is already offsetting inflation effects for business with a growing economy.

Firstly, there are the forthcoming showstopper infrastructure investments. £26 billion to build the Lower Thames Crossing and £8 billion private investment in the London Resort over the next five years.  Plus resolving the uncertainty of Manston as an international aviation freight hub.

Secondly, and more immediately, nearly £50 million of levelling up grants are already being used to regenerate the town centres on Thanet and Chatham and another to enable the new film production and media business centre in Ashford.

Thirdly, Housing Infrastructure Funding is enabling development. HIF has enabled Junction improvements on the A2/M2 at Ebbsfleet, and Sittingbourne will unlock more potential, especially for some hard to reach investment opportunity areas like the Isle of Sheppey.

Medway’s £170 million on the Hoo Peninsula includes a rail connection to Gravesend that is just 22 minutes from Kings Cross on the UK’s only operational High speed training service. Gravesend itself is already seeing huge investment from developers, including Joseph Homes, Quinn Estates and the local authority joint venture with Reef.

Fourthly, the proposed Garden Communities at Lidsing, Lenham Heath, Mountfield Park, Highsted Park and Otterpool will unlock some 600 acres of new employment space. The proposed first planning application for Ebbsfleet Central is consultation and features 100,000 sqm. of office floor space alone.

Finally, we are attracting new investment to the Kent and Medway region now.

In February, Locate in Kent will announce a planning application coming forward from a global manufacturer for a new product development and manufacturing facility in Ashford. The project will create 2,000 new jobs over the next 5 years. We’re not resting on our laurels. With at least four more firms in our pipeline that intend to invest in the Medway area, we are working hard to create a further 2,500 manufacturing and logistics jobs as well.

We are working with developers to create new business parks across the region that enable more opportunities for small businesses to expand and even own their own facilities. And these projects are in addition to those already announced, like Innovation Park Medway, the Panattoni scheme at Aylesford, Clearbell’s Loc8 at Maidstone and Medway One at the former Kingsnorth Power Station.

Kent leads drug research at Discovery Park and Kent Science Park. The new 100 sq ft manufacturing facility for GW Pharmaceuticals, which recently received consent from Swale, will be one of the largest of its kind in the world for making cannabinoid-based drugs. Kent is at the forefront of the green economy, too, with the UK’s first green hydrogen production facility under construction near Canterbury and ample sources of green energy from our own wind and solar installations. Not to mention Amazon’s most sustainable facility in the world at Dartford.

It isn’t all just about real estate and massive infrastructure investments.

Every firm can improve its own productivity simply by adopting flexible working. The recent report commissioned by Sir Robert McAlpine, links flexibility to improved staff morale and productivity. They forecast a 50 per cent increase in flexible working practices could create 51,200 new jobs and unlock £55bn for the UK economy. With new firms like Atom Bank introducing a four-day week, Resolution Foundation research shows flexible working encourages returning mothers back into the workforce, expanding the available talent pool for employers when skilled staff are scarce. Locate in Kent supports small businesses to seize the opportunities for new ways of working through our Future Forward business planning programme.

We are facing more uncertainty, so investing in Kent, where growth is happening, is the certain way to offset the UK economy’s potential difficulties. And adopting, rather than resisting, new ways of working is just one way to mitigate skills shortages.

Simon Ryan is our Investment Director. He works with businesses and property developers to make Kent an even more appealing place to work and grow businesses. Click here for his contact details >>

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