Written evidence submitted by Kent County Council (LRS0055)

 

Dear Select Committee Members,

 

Post-pandemic economic growth: Levelling up - local and regional structures and the delivery of economic growth

 

Thank you for inviting evidence in response to the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee’s inquiry into post-pandemic economic growth. We note that the ‘super-inquiry’ contains a series of subsidiary calls for evidence: while we respond here to the call for evidence on local and regional structures, we have a clear interest in the outcome of the overall inquiry. In parallel, we await the publication of the Government’s Devolution and Local Recovery White Paper, to which we look forward to responding. 

 

The call for evidence covers a substantial amount of ground. In responding, we would highlight three points which the Committee may wish to take into account:

 

First, the pandemic has highlighted the important role of local leadership and local governance.

 

In Kent, the Kent and Medway Recovery Strategy provided an important framework: we started work immediately on the development of a county-wide Economic Renewal and Resilience Plan, which (following consultation) was launched last month, providing a framework for action at all levels. The County Council acted quickly to put in place a support service for business and a package of loan support to help firms grow and adapt in the medium term.

 

More broadly, the response of our colleagues in the Kent Districts and at Medway Council in distributing Government grant support to business was efficient and effective: by mid-August, some £373 million had been allocated to firms across the county. In acting swiftly, with clarity and with local knowledge, the role of local government has proved vital.

 

Second, effective partnership working is essential, regardless of structural arrangements

 

Whatever structural arrangements are put in place to support local growth, they will only be effective if they are accompanied by strong partnership working, both among different parts of the local government family, and with national government and business. This can be hard to ‘mandate’ through a uniform approach to structures: good partnerships emerge from a combination of ‘learning by doing’ and the development of a shared vision over time, alongside an openness to challenge and new ideas.

 

In Kent and Medway, we benefit from a strong county-wide economic partnership, which enables us to work closely with business and education, and which jointly ‘owns’ our Renewal  and Resilience Plan. Looking to the future, we want to build on and strengthen these partnership arrangements – with a clear focus for local government in delivery and accountability, an effective voice for business and a coherent, county-wide geography.

 

Third, in the medium term, our focus must be practical and pragmatic

 

While structures are important, we must not be distracted from the immediate task in hand. We know that many businesses continue to face challenging times, and a significant rise in unemployment later this year is highly likely.

 

In this context, our current focus has been on how we can support a more resilient economy in the medium term, helping both to mitigate the impacts of the crisis and build on opportunities for growth. Later this month, we will launch a new Kent and Medway Employment Task Force, and we hope to work closely with Government in ensuring that the recently-announced employment measures deliver real benefits on the ground. It is essential that over the coming months, we concentrate on the task in hand, working together with our partners.

 

Finally, while we have not addressed the full range of issues set out in the call for evidence, many of them raise interesting and important questions which we should take into account as we develop future policies and programmes – for example, in exploring the potential role of the British Business Bank in supporting locally-focused finance schemes. We look forward to the outcomes of the inquiry, and we would be delighted to engage further as it progresses.

 

Yours faithfully,

 

Mike Whiting

Cabinet Member for Economic Development

Kent County Council

 

September 2020