By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
A recovery plan for Kent businesses is being created to reduce the economic damage of the coronavirus lockdown, it has emerged.
It comes as thousands of companies across the county continue to face the financial strain of the Covid-19 restrictions, particularly in the retail and tourist sectors.
On Monday, Kent County Council’s cabinet discussed the authority’s planned response to the virus outbreak during its first virtual meeting.
KCC’s economic development cabinet member, Cllr Mike Whiting (Con), said: “We don’t know when, but the lockdown will be eased at some point.
“It’s vital that Kent businesses are given all the help they need in being ready to ramp up trading as soon as possible after the lockdown.”
The Local Democracy Reporting service understands that a recovery advisory group has been set up by KCC. It will be made up of representatives from the police, NHS, Medway Council and district authorities.
The group will plan the “required actions necessary” when the recovery begins.
Different teams will be concentrating on specific areas, including education and training, health and social care, infrastructure and the economy.
A major scheme that could play a significant role in the county’s economic recovery – the £250m Ashford International Studios project – was approved by Ashford Borough Council’s planning committee last night (April 22).
The Newton rail works film studios, which are likely to be used by streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, could add £100m-a-year to Ashford’s economy and create more than 2,000 jobs. It is due to open in 2022.
But, hundreds of other businesses in Kent will face significant hardship over the next few months despite Chancellor Rishi Sunak bringing in new rules to stop UK firms going bust.
Around £330bn of Government cash has been promised to help companies continue to pay staff at 80% of their saary and avoid layoffs for at least three months.
Cllr Whiting told his nine cabinet colleagues: “Work is underway on a Kent economic recovery plan.
“We are talking to our partners across the county, in government and Strait community colleagues across the channel, to pull that plan together as quickly as possible.”
However, concerns continue to be raised about the “slow” release of the funds. Around half of 1,400 pubs in Kent have yet to receive much-needed cash from the support scheme, according to data published by the British Beer and Pub Association yesterday.
KCC’s cabinet member for economic development said: “Bank loans to companies supported by the government’s 80% guarantee scheme are still very slow getting out the door.”
But, Cllr Whiting added: “Our district and borough colleagues are working tirelessly to ensure those applying for grants and business rate holidays are being dealt with as quickly as possible.”
Around 300 calls a day have been made to a Kent coronavirus advice line, which was set up by the county’s 13 local authorities to provide support to businesses over Covid-19-related issues.
The Kent coronavirus advice number to call is: 03333 602300 while a Government helpline can be found via https://www.gov.uk/business-coronavirus-support-finder