Thanet & East Kent Insider
25th June 2011 Issue No.: 161
1. Latest On Pfizer
Following the Chamber’s broadcast appeal to Pfizer, see last week’s edition of the Thanet & East Kent Insider ref BBC Radio Kent News of 17th June 2011, we are pleased to note that the company has reacted to the points made by ourselves, our Chamber Co-President, Laura Sandys MP and others and has decided to retain 350 workers on site in Sandwich at the newly named Discovery Park. As our good friends at the BBC reported: “The company said it hoped its retained presence would attract new investors and occupants.” To many of us in the East Kent coastal business community, the hasty withdrawal of Pfizer seemed to be putting at risk the excellent reputation the American parent had acquired for its community-sensitive policies and investment strategies. As Laura Sandys put it in a BBC news broadcast on 16th June 2011 “Pfizer is exiting or creating redundancies too quickly for us to be able to secure that finance and that investment from private sector companies”. The change of heart by the world’s largest bio-medical company has been welcomed by Paul Carter, Leader of Kent County Council, as a “step in the right direction”’ and by David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science who said: “This decision will provide extra time for complex commercial negotiations with potential investors so that a long term future can be secured for the site at Sandwich." There is clearly still a long way to go to replace the hole in our economy from the loss of so many well-paid jobs. This Chamber will continue to work with our elected representatives to promote inward investment in support of our local companies.
2. Chamber Website Maintenance
The Thanet & East Kent Chamber website and email service will be undergoing its annual maintenance on Tuesday 28th June 2011. We expect full service to be resumed by 1100 hrs at the latest. Our telephone lines will be operating normally throughout the period. Please communicate any messages requiring urgent attention between 0830 hrs and 1100 hrs next Tuesday by telephone to 01843 609289 .
3. Kent Contemporary Campaign
4. Worried Wordsworth
The poet William Wordsworth believed that our lives were richer and more fulfilled if we lived in beautiful surroundings with countryside that inspired our thoughts and made us kinder and more understanding of our fellow citizens. Although he lived much longer than most of the romantic poets of his day, he lost much of his inspiration as he got older and produced few memorable works in later life. It must have upset him privately that all those around him spoke enthusiastically about the great poets who had all died young; Byron, Shelley, Keats and Chatterton. There he was in 1850, Poet Laureate at the age of 80 years and yet a daffodil was now a flower in the garden and no longer an inspiration. How happier his life might have been if he had been able to write on a desk supplied by David & Lynda Lawrence of Antique Desks. If a lovely scene from a window can inspire, so can a lovely desk on which to plan how your profits can grow as well as your daffodils, see item 5 below.
5. Cheer Up William, Get An Antique Desk
Here is a company that has embraced internet trading with enthusiasm, attracting customers from across Europe and the USA. Antique Desks is located at Lakeside, near Canterbury. Export antipathy is totally absent as the firm takes full advantage of the favourable exchange rates with the Euro and the continuing appetite around the world for traditional craftsmanship. Through astute management of costs, David and Lynda Lawrence are able to offer reasonable prices on a wide range of desks, chairs and library furniture of interest to anyone who wants something inspiring on which to write, or sit or place their cherished objects. Third party endorsements have come flowing into the company from the USA: “Table is beautiful and arrived in perfect condition without any issue. I won't hesitate in recommending you to others” and Germany: “Desk is amazing - your restorer did a fantastic job”. How wonderful it must be for any retail or wholesale business to hear your buyers say how anxious they are to come back for more, as this lady from England wrote: “The desk is here and I am using it now - it is quite lovely and perfect for our room so thank you very much indeed - now need the antique chair our modern chair just does not look right now”. Antique Desks is offering a large Mahogany Partners Desk at £5,900, a reduction of over £1,000 on the list price. A Victorian Mahogany Pedestal Desk is available at £1,595 with free delivery. David Lawrence tells us that this piece of furniture has been with the same family for over 100 years. For more details, see the websiteatwww.antiquedesks.net. Smaller pieces such as a delightfulAntique Victorian Walnut Stationery Box priced at £275 can be viewed at www.antiques4cottages.com. For an informed discussion on your needs, give Lynda or David a call, tel: 0560 175 2007 or 0754 564 1953. When William Wordsworth wrote “And much it grieved my heart to think / What man has made of man’, he obviously was not thinking of a beautiful desk from Lynda and David or he might have cheered up a little.
6. What Do You Think?
Following our request last week for comments on the current state of the economy in the districts of Thanet & Dover, below is a selection of views received to date.
Andrew Hunter of C G Hibbert Ltd, East Kent’s largest distributer of wines and spirits, said: “We require better access routes to Dover and improved train journey times. Vehicles over-nighting in laybys and roads around Dover cause problems for residents and inhibit the free movement of goods.”
Simon Crowley of Tersons Estate Agency said: “What we need is housing of a quality that will attract the users of the fast train link to London, HS1. This is the cornerstone of any other improvements. If we can improve the housing stock, quality shops and retail outlets will follow”.
Internet & Broadband
Paul Cowham, Managing Director of Sota Solutions, said: “As Kent’s leading independent provider of network infrastructure and Internet connectivity, Sota is well aware of the potential benefits of efficient and reliable digital communications covering all regions in the UK. A meaningful engagement with Government is long overdue and desirable.”
Diana Pelley of A&S Self Storage said: “There are too many yellow lines in the town discouraging people to stop and shop. Adequate parking arrangements close to retailers is essential. Dover Castle is inspiring, but people need to stop in the town in order to appreciate what is available, not go dashing past.” We have received many similar comments from traders in Margate and Ramsgate who find the parking charges excessive. One report reaching the chamber was particularly scathing: “I was just over ten minutes late getting back to my car parked on Margate Harbour Arm. As a result I was fined £50 and told it would be £70 if I didn’t pay immediately. I wrote to the parking company in London but to no avail.”
Terry Morrison of A. R Adams & Sons (Printers) Ltd, said: “Start-up companies require finance which is essential to inward investment in the town and a healthy economy. SWIFT Codes for all Banks in Australia If the banks won’t take a risk, neither will inward investors. We must make access to finance easier.”
More On Banking
Janet Cousins of Mowll & Mowll Solicitors said: “The banks are at the root of everything. In a recent case, a well-managed company with an unblemished trading and finance record had its loan called in by a major bank for no apparent reason other than it was ‘national policy’. Attempts to make the bank see sense in the interests of the business community were met with the statement ‘We want our money back.’ Well-run companies with sound management and good prospects are being badly served by the some of the major banks.” The Thanet & East Kent Chamber welcomes the recent initiative from Lloyds TSB to work more closely with Chamber members. We look forward to making an official announcement shortly.
Planning, Transport & Manston
Adecco Recruitment is the world’s largest HR company and in an official statement declared: “Adecco feel that the following issues pose some barriers to trade opportunities. Firstly, Fast Track Planning is required for companies of all sizes. This means that start-up companies should receive prompt assistance in establishing their operations and established firms should not have to wait long for a response on official reaction to expansion initiatives. Secondly, more funding is required for regional transportation projects. An improved transport link with Manston Airport would encourage inward investment, whilst a faster train link with London would enable greater access to the region for city businesses.”
7. What Does the Chamber Think?
As we have often stated, our assumptions are less important than the views of our members. Following many discussions with the members of the Thanet & East Kent Chamber and the Dover District Chamber of Commerce, we make nine recommendations. It should be noted that these recommendations are from the two largest business support organisations in the East Kent coastal business community.
Recommendation One: Fast Track Planning. Any commercial proposal that creates 5+ jobs should receive a preliminary response within 5 days and a decision within 28 days.
Recommendation Two: Abolition of Rating (Empty Properties) Act 2007. Eric Pickles was quite right when he described the pernicious consequences of this attack on property investors: ‘Empty rates will stifle what hope there is for an economic recovery’. Michael Gove was equally adamant about this ‘wicked and ungodly Act’. It is still there. Let’s put it in the same parliamentary dustbin as the so – called Red Flag Act which required motorists to keep to a maximum of 4 mph and to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag. It’s time for our commercial property market to be speeded up. Let’s get rid of the red flag of Empty Rates.
Recommendation Three: Export, Export, Export. The Euro is just above parity with the pound sterling. Let’s support Kent manufacturers in selling their wares in Europe. Many of the products manufactured in East Kent can have a 20% cost advantage over their French counterparts. We are the closest to the Eurozone, we should be selling more.
Recommendation Four: Improve Broadband Coverage. The Internet highway is the autobahn of the 21st Century. Many of our rural communities are deprived of modern communication links. Improving broadband speeds will stimulate economic growth outside our cities and towns. We currently have a shameful provision in comparison to some our competitors in developing countries that have leapfrogged our technology.
Recommendation Five: Focus on Skills. The expansion plans of some companies are hindered through the lack of an adequate skills base. Some of our schools, colleges, and universities work closely with their neighbouring companies. Many do not. Business and education chiefs need to work together. A prime example of this cooperation is our Chamber Business Networking Breakfast scheduled for Thursday 30th June 2011 which brings together the enlightened senior management of the Marlowe Academy, Dover Grammar School for Girls, Hadlow Technology College and Thanet College.
Recommendation Six: Manston Parkway Station. The recent draft report from York Aviation forecast over 3,000 jobs following the granting of permission for night flights to Manston Airport. A direct line to London from a Manston Parkway Station would make Manston a genuine alternative to the London Airports and provide a huge vote of confidence in East Kent as a whole. Let’s stop talking. Let’s start building. Let’s start flying.
Recommendation Seven: National War Memorial on Dover’s Western Heights. The National War Memorial represents a clear opportunity to boost in-bound tourism to East Kent and to take advantage of the 13 million passengers who currently pass through the port of Dover each year but rarely stop. We estimate an input to the local economy in excess of £30 million a year following completion of the project which will appeal to almost every family in Britain and to many in the 50 Commonwealth countries that will be represented. Let’s get this project started before another part of the country takes John Pegg’s brilliant design for 1.7km of white granite walls engraved with the names of every serviceman and woman killed in the service of this country in WWI and WWII.
Recommendation Eight: Housing & Banking
Any house building projects should first take into account the jobs available to future residents. More social housing without realistic job offers available will not stimulate economic development. High Street banks should devolve more decision-making to local bank managers who know their business community. We want more bank managers to say: “Yes because I know you” and fewer remote computers to say “No, not a chance enquiry number 276549.”
Recommendation Nine: Business Support
The Business Advice Clinics offered every month to business of all sizes trading in Thanet have been fully booked since their launch last April. The Thanet & East Kent Chamber receives no financial support of any description from Thanet District Council (TDC) or any public body. A few years ago, TDC doubled the rent paid by the Chamber for its Broadstairs office at the Kent Innovation Centre and has increased the rent every year since. TDC may have a reduced budget but it has influence, patronage and control over many factors that could be used imaginatively to create jobs and boost the local economy. The people of Thanet deserve more and it is for those in local government who preside over the district to stimulate business for our companies, create jobs for our residents and provide a future for our youth. The Chamber's recent marketing trip to France has shown what can be done to create new opportunities in the Eurozone. It is surely time for the Council to back such efforts and to match its fine words with the appropriate actions in support.
8. News From Dover
Our sister Chamber in Dover, the Dover District Chamber of Commerce, will be hosting a Business Networking lunch on Friday 29 July 2011 which will feature Dover People’s Port: The Story So Far. Following the spectacular referendum result that produced a 97.5% vote in favour of a transfer of the port to DPPTL, the Dover People’s Port Trust Ltd, the government has called for a consultation, as reported in last week’s edition. One City insider whose season is regularly punctuated by Henley, Wimbledon and the Lords Test remarked to the Thanet & East Kent Insider that: “We are unlikely to hear a government decision before the St Leger”. Nevertheless, DDPTL is sensing that the wind is blowing in its favour and will be able to give a full briefing on developments. East Kent companies will have a particular interest in the promised £50 million regeneration fund which will immediately follow a transfer to DPPTL. A similar sum for investment is earmarked to follow in the ensuing few years. More details will follow in next week’s edition. As always in these matters, priority will be given to Chamber members.
9. Precious About Language
Most of us are much more careful about what we write than about what we say. Although our legal advisors may tell us that an oral contract is just as valid in law as a written one, it does makes sense to pay particular care before committing ourselves and our companies to a formal statement that has transferred from the keyboard to the printer without a stopover at the brain. We have probably all been guilty of a precipitous remark about which we might have earned us a yellow card from a referee. Not all of us have the quick wit of one Chamber member whose words were featured in a previous edition of the Thanet & East Kent Insider. Regular readers will recall when his music teacher turned round and found this young student pulling a face, the teacher said: “When I was young, I was told that if I pulled an ugly face and the wind changed, the face would stay with me all my life”. To which the young boy replied: “Well, sir, you can’t say you weren’t warned.” This resulted in a red card and no music lessons for a month. Getting it right first time is the ambition of all quality manufacturers but in our everyday speech we must surely be allowed the odd mistake. One Chamber member, recently returned form the USA, has informed the Chamber of an exchange at Harvard University. We have our doubts about this story, but we leave it to readers to decide for themselves. “A freshman from a backwoods town in Tennessee arrived at Harvard University for his first day at this prestigious university that has furnished eight US presidents and looked after 75 Nobel Prize winners. On exploring the campus with a growing sense of awe at the magnificent buildings and world-class research facilities, he asked one of the passing members of staff: “Excuse me sir, can you please tell me where Dudley House is at?” After some hesitation at being addressed by a lowly freshman, the distinguished Professor finally responded. “At Harvard young man, we don’t end our sentences with a preposition.” The freshman replied: “Do excuse me sir, please tell me where Dudley House is at, jackass?”
© David Foley, June 2011