Tuesday, 25 August 2015

London’s not the enemy, it’s the answer

Despite strained relations with the mayor's office, London is somewhere we need to be working with, not against, writes Andrew Metcalf of Maxim.

I was on holiday – sitting by the pool relaxing – when I stupidly switched on my iPad and came across the Centre for Cities’ report on mapping Britain’s finances. Yes, I know I should have turned back to the Ashes and reached for my chilled beer, but I read on and it got me thinking about development in Kent.

With London generating one in every four pounds of tax for the Treasury, and producing more than twice the amount of tax than the entire Northern Powerhouse, why is the government not being persuaded to do more to drive the economies surrounding the capital by unlocking investment? 

This has to be a job not just for the county and district councils, but also the Local Enterprise Partnerships. Our own SE LEP region generates the second highest amount of tax for the Treasury, and could arguably produce more if properly supported.

Generating £18,395, in terms of tax per employee, SE LEP (Kent, Essex, East Sussex) under-performs the GB average by £1,262 per worker, and is a massive £10,068 below the Greater London Authority average tax take. With 1,449,300 jobs in the SE LEP region, that’s a huge amount George Osborne could put to good use if the South East upped its game.

Let’s not get embroiled in whether the SE LEP works as an economic region, the key thing to recognise is that its communities sit on the edge of a global city, one struggling to maintain its position and needing to expand to support the UK’s wider economy.

What we need is a more open and honest debate, one which seeks to answer the question: How can Kent, Essex and East Sussex help deliver a stronger more vibrant London? 

Planning process

Warm words in economic development strategies about being “open for business”, and “going for growth”, need to be translated into tangible actions, and where better to start than by supporting development through the planning process?

There’s already economic inter-dependency between many communities in Kent and London and we need to strengthen commercial ties and supply chains and improve political relations. 

Half of all workers in Britain live in one local authority and work in another, which makes it difficult to assess the true picture of economic performance and consumption of public services. Politicians therefore need to look beyond electoral boundaries, which to business are arbitrary and largely irrelevant. If we can do this and help London, it will strengthen our case for reciprocal investment in much-needed infrastructure, education, health and housing.

Put the case in this pragmatic and positive way, and there will be more receptive ears at City Hall and Whitehall when it comes to the third Lower Thames Crossing; extension of Crossrail, other Enterprise Zones, support for Ebbsfleet Garden City and many others, including a much need solution to Operation Stack.

We’ve got great connectivity to London and mainland Europe, a case constantly being put by Locate in Kent. Ebbsfleet International is 17 minutes and Ashford International is 37 minutes away from Stratford. We’ve got Dover, Eurotunnel and our estuary ports, university campuses, and we are perfectly placed to accommodate more businesses.

Relations with the Mayor’s office have been strained thanks to the Boris Island proposals, but let’s embrace London, build bridges (real and metaphorical) and strengthen what is already a London-South East powerhouse.

• Andrew is a director at Maxim, a PR and marketing agency based in the South East.

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