With the Times Business Awards 2017 on its way it seemed only natural that One Media and county’s most robust advocate for commercial investment decided to form a partnership in order to showcase the very best of local enterprise.
THE districts of Tunbridge Wells, Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and Malling have long been noted for their thriving business culture and buoyant local economies.
It has helped make the West Kent area one of the most prosperous in the South East and, with the added advantage of benefitting from its close links to the capital, boasts many leading and successful companies.
But this success comes with its own pitfalls. Higher property prices and rents – with the subsequent effects on rates and other taxes – not only affect the residents but can make starting up a business or expanding a costly exercise.
The perception of prosperity can also mean many genuine needs of the area are overlooked, leading to funding from central government, county council or enterprise partnerships being diverted to areas with more apparent needs.
It is against this backdrop that 14 years ago the three districts set up the West Kent Partnership in order to lobby for the engine room of Kent’s economy, seek investment into local infrastructure and provide support for local firms.
Wendy Wood, who has been the manager of the organisation since shortly after its inception, explained the role that West Kent Partnership plays in keeping the area a vibrant place to do to business.
“Our purpose is to represent the economic interests of the area. Specifically, we seek funding funding streams avaialable to businesses and bring them to a local level,” she said.
In effect, the organisation plays a key role in advising local firms on how best to find grants or benefit from the reliefs available, many of which can appear convoluted, or are ill-advertised to the firms they are supposed to benefit.
In doing so, the organisation supported 118 businesses in the year ending June 2016.
Furthermore, the public-private West Kent Partnership has a role in lobbying the necessary policymakers over the benefits of investing in the area, and supports is case with in depth research.
Mrs Wood explained: “Although we recognise that other parts of the county may have a greater need of investment due to their own issues, we commissioned a report in 2014/15 called ‘Where the Funding Goes’ that showed a disproportionate amount heads to the East of Kent.
“The report helps us make the case for the West Kent economy as it supports many jobs from the surrounding area, including people commuting from the east of the county. It is therefore important we keep the local economy strong, because if it suffers so will neighbouring areas.
“And when we do get funding, we are able to show we invest it in a cost effective manner which maximises its impact.”
Chairman of the West Kent Partnership, Nicolas Heslop, said: “The Partnership is delighted to be working with Times Local Newspapers to recognise and celebrate business excellence through these Awards. Businesses in West Kent are innovative and enterprising and the West Kent Partnership is working to ensure they are supported to succeed by having access to a skilled local workforce and business support initiatives. Investment in the local economy and infrastructure is vital to business growth and as the economic partnership for the area we represent the needs of the West Kent economy within Kent, the South East and to Government.”