This last year has been the worst period for Kent business in memory, even worse than after the financial crash of 2008. Yet beneath the surface it is clear that some sectors, at least, are proving surprisingly resilient, which is of course hugely welcome for jobs and future prosperity.
Last week I was invited to the virtual meeting of the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership. There are indeed sectors like tourism which have been hit incredibly hard, and are just praying for a post-vaccine summer season of some kind. Similarly, the current adjustment to the new paperwork required for exporting is taking a toll particularly on the food industry. Living up to national stereotypes, the French customs are being flexible about most goods, but rigid in their insistence of meeting the rules on foodstuffs.
Despite these difficulties, the current anticipation is that freight will be back to normal by the end of January. I suspect this will depend on whether the French Government decides to tighten further its Covid restrictions.
Yet looking at other sectors the banks see a number of firms moving to new business models, and proving that they can still be profitable. The science sector is seeing surprising growth, perhaps boosted by the inevitable increasing importance of the health sector.
The construction sector has kept going well, though there is a specific East Kent problem with the Environment Agency’s judgement on pollution in the Stour threatening to stop all new development across the region. There may also be looming problems in the supply chain.
The overall conclusion was that growth will return in the second half of this year to the Kent economy. The recession will be deeper than the one after the 2008 crash, but shorter in duration. At this miserable time of year, this at least is something to cling to.