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What can local councils do to encourage a thriving local economy?

August 2, 2018 5:00 PM
By Gary Fuller in Folkestone Herald - Talking Points

Gary FullerWe are currently in the throes of what has been termed the "Fourth Industrial Revolution". Automation, online services, AI and the internet of things may well signal a fundamental shift in how our economy and jobs market works. The traditional high street could well disappear, to be replaced by service sector and more bespoke offerings.

To be best placed to take advantage of this shift, there are two things we need to do. Firstly, we need to build the digital and physical infrastructure required to attract innovative and technologically focussed business to our area. Secondly, we must ensure that local people can take advantage of the opportunities presented by such businesses.

Kent County Council seems to be at least partly aware of this. It has, for example, recognised that much of Kent's digital sector workforce is freelance, and thus realises that shared workspaces and start-up incubators will be needed. It also appears to be preparing a funding mechanism for supporting broadband infrastructure projects.

Councils will also have to support skills training and start-up costs for local people, to ensure they're not left behind in the new economy. STEM businesses target highly trained employees. Local councils can support this through partnerships with education providers. This could include everything from code clubs at primary schools, to support for FE college IT specialist courses, to grant funding for IT sector training (such as Zend PHP certification).

STEM businesses, and their employees, also need various support services, which our local council can facilitate through effective local planning. More houses, schools and medical facilities are needed. High speed fibre broadband should be available across the district, even where retro-fitting is needed. Support for STEM businesses, but also service sector businesses on which they rely, should be prioritised. In this way the local economy will thrive.