Rural growth in Kent

The food sector is one of the UK's largest employers

The food sector is one of the UK's largest employers - Credit: Archant

Nick Sandford, chairman of the Kent branch of the CLA, on why Kent rural businesses should look at the opportunities to boost their growth through South East Local Enterprise Partnerships

Recognition is growing of the value of the businesses in our countryside. The rural economy is worth £210bn nationally and the food sector alone, from field to plate, is one of the country’s largest employers.

From farms to renewable energy generation, historic houses and holiday cottages, businesses in rural areas are making a major contribution to the UK’s economic recovery.

The value of our county’s rural economy has been calculated at £6.8bn and if it were a FTSE company, Kent’s agricultural sector would be approximately 65th in size.

Without strong businesses in the countryside, rural Kent would not enjoy the same investment into infrastructure such as roads and broadband.

But a flourishing countryside economy does not happen by itself. Individual owners of land and business, along with their employees, work extremely hard to bring their ideas to life and create new jobs.

They are supported by the CLA, which provides expert business advice as well as representing their interests to Government and other influencers within Kent, in Westminster and at European level.

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Government-funded organisations also have an important responsibility to support the rural economy and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) are a prime example.

The 39 LEPs across England aim to bring together leaders from business, local government and higher education. They were set up by the Government to identify economic priorities, make investments, drive growth and create jobs. Crucially, over the coming years they will have significant funding from a national pot.

This national growth money must be used to benefit all sections of the economy, including the countryside. There are many smaller rural businesses waiting for this funding so they can establish, grow and provide a competitive offer for customers.

LEPs can act as a major dynamic for rural economic growth, but this will only happen if they work closely with rural businesses and stakeholders who have the necessary experience to help them focus this money on areas and sectors where it is most needed and where the gain in economic delivery will be most beneficial.

The relationships are in place to allow this to happen in Kent. The CLA works closely with South East LEP (which covers Kent, Essex and East Sussex), and I am the LEP’s rural sector Chairman. It is a hefty investment of time but we are hopeful that our involvement through the LEP’s committee structure will pay dividends for the rural economy. South East LEP expects to receive £442.2m in funding from the UK Government to boost economic growth until 2021. It has also been allocated £165m of European funding to improve economic competitiveness and employment and £14.4m from Europe for rural development between 2015 and 2020. This funding is to support jobs and growth in rural areas.

I urge rural business to look into the opportunities you may be able to take up by working with South East LEP. In addition, rural businesses in many parts of Kent can apply for EU LEADER funding.

Now is the time to look at the application criteria for funding, understand the timescales and consider whether it could help your business to grow.

The CLA is working to ensure the opportunities will be on offer for rural businesses, it is up to the firms themselves to make the most of these opportunities as they come to fruition. n

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