Update report on economic development strategy themes
The Committee were presented with a report that summarised the steps that were being taken to draw from and link into economic recovery work at a county and regional level, together with an update on progress with the Economic Growth Strategy.
The Senior Economic Development Officer guided Members through the report and highlighted key points from the following sections:
· Economic Snapshot
· Local Authority Response
· South East Local Enterprise Partnership and Thames Estuary Growth Board
· Business Grant Scheme Closure
· Economic Growth Strategy Progress
· Business Communication
· Kent and Medway Growth Hub ‘Recovery Helpline’
The Chair thanked the officer for his presentation and raised a question about the recent response to the consultation for London Resort regarding the skills employability and jobs for local people theme.
The Assistant Director (Planning) advised that the Council recognised the value that would come from the development of London Resort due to the amount of jobs it would create and the sustainability that came with those jobs. There were also ongoing discussions about local labour agreements, maintaining positive relationships with existing local businesses, adding a Gravesham heritage feel to the Resort and kick-starting careers for people learning new trades/skills.
The Senior Economic Development Officer fielded several questions from Members and explained that:
· The broadband scheme to extend superfast broadband to 1200 homes and businesses was a successful bid from KCC that aimed to cover all of Kent’s rural areas that suffered with poor broadband or had no connectivity at all. The economic development team had received some of the postcodes of the areas that would benefit from the broadband installation and Members were welcomed to inquire about the areas that would receive the boost
· The programmes of funding available were different to the funding that was available prior to the pandemic; HM Treasury had been active in providing business support grants over the last few months. However business recovery seems to be at the forefront of central government funding decisions now and it was considered likely that new funding is likely to be available to local schemes to bid for.. The team’s approach was to make the Council’s priorities known to key partners so that when schemes are released, the Council would be in the best position possible and be ready to put in successful bids.
· One of the team’s roles was to understand what skills were required for people to gain employment and how to work alongside local colleges as part of local efforts to create a suitably skilled talent pool to satisfy the demands of local people and employers. Apprenticeships are an increasingly popular form of education which allow skills to develop to form a career and their increased availability locally, is likely to improve employment opportunities and the availability of a skilled workforce within Gravesham.
· A common discussion being held was getting into schools from an earlier age and discussing future skills development and employment. Schools’ careers services are now partly delivered through the Enterprise Advisor Network which is comprised of volunteers from a range of career backgrounds. These individuals help schools to develop their career programmes and talk to the students about their experiences. Recently the Senior Economic Development Officer met with Cllr Sullivan to discuss the Lower Thames Crossing and how they might engage with the local schools during the course of the development but that plan was still in its very early stage of development.
· A representative of Gravesham Council did not sit on the Thames Estuary Growth Board and the Chair Kate Willard had yet to visit Gravesham however the Council still had influence on the Board and were able to put forward Spring proposals. Kate Willard follows the Council on social media and her press secretary is aware of Gravesham’s priorities.
· The Council were of the view that there was talent everywhere in Gravesham, not just within the Grammar Schools
· A virtual Gravesham Business Network was being planned for later in the autumn and was envisaged to include consultation on the Council’s Economic Growth Strategy. The main reason for the membership increase of one hundred members was due to the increased opportunities to engage with businesses through the sending out of the grant applications and invites to join the network. It was a great opportunity for local businesses to comment on Gravesham’s economy and become more involved
With regards to a Members question about the feasibility of getting schemes into schools for young people, the Committee were informed by Cllr Sullivan that KCC had recommissioned the Connections service which previously worked with young people in Gravesham.
Concern was raised by a Member over 6.7 of the report, which covered the rural economy, as almost four fifths of Gravesham was classified as rural and yet only a very small section of the report with minor updates was dedicated to the rural economy. In future reports, the Senior Economic Development Officer was asked to provide a more detailed update.
With regards to the Rural Economy information in this report, further information was requested regarding:
· The proposals for a small number of rural employment sites
· If rural jobs were increasing in the rural area or urbans jobs had moved to the rural area
· The broadband scheme
- how many houses were waiting for the superfast broadband
- how the scheme would be advertised to rural residents
- What sort of connectivity would they be receiving and how fast was the broadband
The Senior Economic Development Officer agreed that section 6.7 was relatively short but advised that even though only a few points had been highlighted in the report specifically regarding the rural economy, with the exception of the Town Centre items, most of the other items related to the Borough as whole.
At the Chairs request, the Senior Economic Development Officer agreed to come back to the Committee with further information regarding the Broadband Scheme.
The Chair summed up the points made by Members and thanked the Senior Economic Development Officer for an information update.