Speaking at Sevenoaks & District Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Business event at St Julian’s, Underriver on Thursday 5th June, local MP and business Minister Michael Fallon said: “Unemployment in Sevenoaks has fallen substantially since the last General Election. The number claiming Job Seekers Allowance has fallen from 1,074 in May 2010 to 675 in April 2014 – a drop of 37 per cent. There are now a record 4,720 businesses registered for VAT in the Sevenoaks area. Local firms have created 1,640 apprenticeships since the last election, over 500 of them last year. There are still challenges, and the government has announced new plans to improve lending to small firms and to help them win a bigger share of public sector contracts. But Sevenoaks business is on a roll.”
Michael officially visited refurbished Hextable Post Office, which is now open significantly longer opening hours for customers. The branch, at McColls Retail Group Ltd, 2 Home Hill, Hextable, Swanley, BR8 7RR is now a new local-style open-plan branch, which offers Post Office services from a till at the retail counter alongside retail transactions during shop opening hours.
Post Office customers now benefit from opening hours being increased to 107 hours a week as the new branch is open Monday to Saturday: 06:00–21:30; Sunday: 07:00-21:00. This offers customers an extra 56 hours of Post Office service every week, including all day Sunday. The branch also opens significantly earlier and closes much later every day.
Michael said: “The branch looks great. The open-plan counter makes it far easier for staff and customers to talk without the need to talk loudly. The opening hours really are impressive, which makes it far more convenient for people with busy lives to visit Hextable Post Office any day of the week.”
Post Office Senior Stakeholder Manager, Martine Munby, said: “We understand how important having a Post Office is to residents in Hextable and we are confident this new modern Post Office service will meet the needs of the local community and secure services for the future. This modernisation is part of a major investment programme, the largest in the history of the Post Office and marks a commitment to no more branch closure programmes.”
Under the current Parliament the Government has committed £1.34bn for the Post Office network to make sure there is no programme of Post Office closures and to update branches; in November the Government announced a further £640m investment in the Post Office network, from 2015 to 2018.
Nationwide the investment programme will see up to 8,000 branches modernised with additional investment in over 3,000 community and outreach branches.
The Post Office, now independent of Royal Mail, is the largest retail network in the UK, with over 11,500 branches. It is also one of the fastest growing financial services companies and is developing its online and telephony services.
Michael will be one of the panellists on BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions? on Friday, 16th May from St Anselm’s School, Canterbury. Presented by Jonathan Dimbleby the others on the panel will be Sir Menzies Campbell MP, Patrick O Flynn and Sadiq Khan MP.
Roads Minister Robert Goodwill MP has today given the green light to the much-needed scheme to provide vital extra capacity on the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury. A 2.5 miles section of the A21 between Tonbridge and Pembury in Kent will be upgraded from single to dual carriageway, adding a lane in each direction, upgrading junctions and improving road layout.
“I am delighted that this scheme has received the go-ahead from the Government. The extra capacity on the A21 will make journeys more reliable and safer and will also help our businesses in Sevenoaks to continue to grow.”
Michael co-chaired this public meeting with Jon Hardey, Chairman of Brasted Parish Council, following the flooding and subsequent damage to properties which residents experienced earlier this year.
Michael said: “I was delighted to be invited to co-chair this meeting last Friday. Having visited Brasted during the floods in February, I saw first hand the impact which the high water levels had on residents’ properties.
The meeting was attended by 40 local residents with representatives present from Thames Water, Kent Highways and The Environment Agency together with Kent County Councillor Richard Parry and SDC Councillor Anna Firth. This provided a good opportunity for the community to come together to share ideas about how a similar situation could be avoided in the future.
As a result of our meeting a technical working group, comprising of all three agencies, has been established to meet quarterly with Brasted Parish Council. It will work through all the issues raised and especially address what can be done to reduce surface water from heavy rain. The local Environment Agency team are also preparing a bid for a scheme to improve flood prevention for both Brasted and Sundridge, and I will be supporting that bid.”
Michael met with local business leaders ahead of the spring Budget to discuss how the Government was helping them reach their full potential.
During the meeting Michael confirmed that Sevenoaks was leading the way; the number of businesses in the area had increased by 1.3% in 2013, compared to 0.6% in the South East region and 0.8% across the UK.
He reinforced the fact that more help was on the way from Government, with every single business set to benefit from the new Employment Allowance which will give them a £2,000 tax cut from their National Insurance this April. The reduction in small companies tax to 20 per cent and the doubling of small business rate relief will give businesses in Sevenoaks the right environment to continue to grow as our economic recovery accelerates.
Allocations to the Business Support Scheme where made today, with Sevenoaks District Council allocated £172,500. Businesses that have been significantly affected by the recent flooding can apply to this fund to claim for loss of trade due top being closed, damaged stock and high-clean-up costs.
This allocation represents the first tranche of funding from the £10 million Business Support Scheme announced by the Prime Minister this week.
Michael visited the new fire station in Ash this morning and met many of the crew who live or work within a 4-minute response time to the base.
This is an on-call station with a single fire engine. On-call fire stations operate by calling firefighters in when needed to pick up the engine and attend an incident. When this happens everyone does their utmost to ensure there is as little disturbance as possible e.g. engines would generally not use their sirens as they leave the station.
Many of the firefighters that Michael met had been helping those in the area who had been affected by the recent floods in recent weeks.
As part of the Government’s ongoing work to deal with the floods, the Prime Minister has this week set out further support for businesses in areas affected by flooding.
The following help is available:
• A new Business Support Scheme worth up to £10million to provide hardship funding for SME businesses in areas affected by the floods. Both businesses that have been flooded, and businesses that are in affected areas and have suffered significant loss of trade, will be able to apply for support. Eligible businesses will be able to claim for funding for things like immediate clean-up costs, materials, and exceptional costs to help them continue trading;
• All affected businesses will get 100 per cent business rate relief for 3 months and will also get an extra 3 months to pay the business taxes they owe to HMRC as they get back on their feet;
• A £5,000 “repair and renew” grant for all affected homeowners and businesses – this will top up any money received from insurers to ensure flood resilience is built into homes and businesses as they are repaired;
• A £10 million fund for farmers suffering water-logged fields to help restore it to farmable land as quickly as possible;
• Extra time for businesses to file accounts without any penalties. If any affected company is unable to file accounts or other documents on time as a direct result of the floods, Companies House will agree an extension and not collect the penalties which apply for late filings;
• A Government Business Support Helpline is providing comprehensive advice and support to businesses affected by floods. The Helpline will offer a free one hour call with a dedicated Business Support Adviser to help businesses get back on their feet. The helpline number is 0300 456 3565 and can take calls from flood affected businesses now.
On Monday 17th February the Prime Minister David Cameron MP said:
“The Government is taking action across the board to deal with the clear-up and help hard-working people affected by the floods. Today I am announcing further support for businesses hit to help them get back on their feet. Dealing with these floods will be a long haul, requiring a stepped-up national effort with the whole country pulling together. We will continue to help the people who need help and protect the communities that need protecting.”
On Friday 31st January, Michael visited the new non-selective Christian Trinity School where he met pupils and answered questions about his role as MP for Sevenoaks and as Minister of State for Business and Energy.
Speaking about his visit, Mr Fallon noted: ‘It was a great pleasure to tour the school at its initial site in Riverhead and meet the pupils. They asked me some very challenging questions! I was very impressed at what Matthew Tate and his team have achieved already and look forward to seeing the school grow and develop in the coming years. I am delighted that the Government’s Free Schools policy is bringing added choice to the educational landscape in Sevenoaks. ’
Matthew Tate, Headmaster, commented: ‘The students really enjoyed meeting Mr Fallon. We were very glad to be able to thank him in person for the role he played in helping us to be selected as one of the Free Schools to be funded by the Government.’