Agenda item

Draft Economic Development Strategy


The Assistant Director (Communities) introduced the new Senior Economic Development Officer to the Committee who has joined the Economic Development team and will contribute to the development of the proposed Strategy.

Members were provided with a presentation on the draft Economic Development Strategy and were asked to comment on the emerging objectives for the Strategy; the presentation can be accessed through the below link:


Member’s attention was drawn to section three of the report which described the challenges that Gravesham’s economy faced and needed to be addressed if it the Council’s ambition for a vibrant and productive economy was to be realised. The challenges included:


·         Lowest productivity levels – Gravesham had the lowest productivity levels and the smallest local economy in Kent & Medway when compared with other Kent Districts


·         Lower job density – Gravesham’s job density was low, with a ratio of 0.62 jobs available for each person aged between 16 and 64 (the ‘working age’ cohort), compared with a figure of 0.87 for the South East


·         Lower wage levels – Statistical analysis demonstrate that local residents who commuted out of the local area for work, enjoyed markedly higher earnings


·         Higher unemployment – Unemployment in Gravesham (3.4%) continued to report above the Kent figure (2.6%)


·         Lower attainment and skill levels – On average, Gravesham residents of working age have lower attainment and skill levels than other parts of the South East and nationally


On a more positive note, the Assistant Director (Communities) advised that Gravesham was seeing a growth in small businesses with around 4000 of them operating within Gravesham; their three year survival rates stood at 65% which was higher than the rest of the County.


To combat some of the challenges Gravesham faced and fundamental to achieving a more productive local economy was an expansion in the number, variety and quality of job opportunities in the Borough. Investment in new employment space and skills were essential to that objective and in ensuring that local residents could access better paid jobs within the Borough. Investors needed to be informed of the planned changes to Gravesham and how well connected Gravesend was with the high speed train links to London.


The following objectives, listed on pages 12-15, were proposed and considered by the Committee in response to the challenges set out in Section 3 of the report:


·         Objective 1: Place Branding to Promote Gravesham as a Place ‘Open for Business’


·         Objective 2: New employment land and premises to enable businesses to grow


·         Objective 3: Enhancing the Borough’s Infrastructure to Re-inforce Accessibility & Connectivity Advantages


·         Objective 4: Supporting Enterprise to Encourage Business Growth


·         Objective 5: Skills & employability to ensure that the local workforce is equipped with appropriate skills to access employment opportunities


·         Objective 6: Recognising the Changes that are taking place in the rural economy and its contribution to overall local economic  growth


·         Objective 7: To identify the Implications of the Councils climate change commitments in support of sustainable economic development


The Senior Economic Development Officer informed the Committee of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) and its role in the developing the Strategy; SELEPS three strategic opportunities, as outlined in the presentation, were:


·         UK’s Global Gateway

·         Communities for the Future

·         Coastal Catalyst


The South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP) was working towards publishing a Local Industrial Strategy by the end of March 2020 in accordance with the productivity and competitiveness focus of the UK’s Industrial Strategy in respect of productivity. To date SELEP has been focused on its strategy for economic growth, skills, transport and infrastructure through its Strategic Economic Plan and its Skills Strategy 2018-2023.


To inform SELEP’s strategy, Kent County Council, Medway Council, and the 12 Kent Districts were working with the Kent & Medway Economic Partnershipto develop a Kent & Medway Enterprise and Productivity Strategy. That will identify Kent & Medway’s contribution to achieving change in the South East and focus on addressing a disparity between Kent & Medway’s competitiveness and the rest of the South East.


Those strategies were also important in that they will set the framework for future investments that can take place through the Government’s Local Growth Funding which was allocated via SELEP. It was therefore timely that the Council refined its priorities for growth to benefit from future funding programmes.


The Chair thanked the officers for an informative presentation and asked that all the slides from the presentation were circulated to the Committee.


Following the presentation, the Director (Planning & Development) and Assistant Director (Communities) fielded questions from the Committee:


·         A possible reason for the higher survival rate of small business was due to Gravesham being a location that was cheaper to rent and cheaper labour being available. Connectivity was also one of Gravesham’s greatest assets, especially with the HS1 service to London; additionally the support network for the business community and collaboration between businesses was of a very high level within Gravesham. Some work to establish the exact reasons for small businesses thriving would be worthwhile.

·         Gravesham needed to be able to communicate its priorities well; for instance to increase the job density rate more land and premises would have to be made available to expand the workforce and increase growth within the Borough

·         Many of the smaller businesses that operated out of their home addresses were under the radar due to their size and location; additionally the Council recognised that some businesses wished to stay at the same level and did not want to expand. The businesses that wanted to move up and expand would be offered assistance where possible

·         The SELEP doesn’t have direct representation from the Council; the SELEP is a federated model that worked through the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership. The Leader sat on that Partnership and the Director (Planning & Development) was allowed to support the Leader at the meetings.

·         External funding was received from SELEP to fund the infrastructure work carried out at Rathmore Road.

·         A number of other schemes in the Town Centre were funded through SELEP: improvements to the Town Pier, the Wayfaring Scheme and various Cycle Strategies. Funding has also been put in place to acquire land with Kent Highways Authority at Barrack Row to facilitate the development of the interchange and enhance the bus stops in Garrick Street. ANPR cameras were also being investigated to prevent drivers going through the bus gate at Garrick Street

·         Local small businesses work together to support each other; the next meeting of the Business Network was scheduled for Thursday, 28 November 2019 at 08:00am if Members desired to attend

·         The team will look at promoting small businesses in each edition of the Your Borough magazine; the highlighting of successful small businesses can be linked back to the place branding of Gravesham

·         The team focus on vacant properties within the Town Centre as it is vital to have businesses active within the properties.  Vacancies have a fundamental impact on business rates income. Work was being carried out in the background to determine why properties were empty and what actions need to be taken to ensure that they are marketed to potential businesses

·         A promotional document will be created in partnership with the branding exercise highlighting the connectivity of Gravesham and its links to London 

·         An action plan will be written up alongside the Strategy as soon as possible and then be brought back to the Committee for further comment to allow it to move forward in the future 

·         The Council do have a connection with North Kent College however those ties needed to be strengthened and their engagement sought with the Council’s priorities with regards to apprenticeships and employability, etc


The Chair added that the EDC were also looking at upskilling the local workforce as the Garden City development will require people with a higher degree of skills; they are working with Greenwich University to see how the level of skills can be increased.


The Chair offered the below comments in relation to the Objectives:


·         The wording on Objective 6 needed strengthening as 78% of the Borough was Green Belt land and considered ‘rural economy’. The wording needed to include more about how support would be grown and the rural economy would be retained

·         The Objectives needed to be placed in an order of priority to Gravesham; upskilling the workforce and the rural economy were important issues that needed further development.

·         A clear delivery and action plan needed to be created to support the achievement of the aspirations of the Economic Development Strategy


Supporting documents: