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Lord Digby Jones says businesses must support schools so they can get good staff at Swale Regeneration Conference in Sittingbourne

By Chris Price

Business ambassador Lord Digby Jones called on companies to get involved in schools if they want skilled employees to help them grow.

The former CBI director general and trade minister told more than 200 bosses at the first Swale Regeneration Conference they are key to generating wealth in Kent but cannot do it without staff up to the job.

Lord Jones was part of a wide ranging programme of speakers at the Coniston Hotel, Sittingbourne, who spoke about future plans for the area.

Lord Digby Jones speaking at the Swale Regeneration Conference

The programme also included Business Minister Michael Fallon and Cathedral Group chief executive Richard Upton, who leads the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium behind regeneration plans for the town centre.

Lord Jones said: “If you ask any businesswoman or man in Swale ‘what’s your one big constraint?’ it won’t be the road or online retail – although they are important.

“It is actually that they cannot get enough skilled people. We need an education system that is fit for purpose and capable of pushing people out who can read, write, count and operate a computer.

“Do that and at least we start ahead of the game.”

Katrina Hann of Experian gave a seminar on the future of the high street

Sevenoaks MP Mr Fallon spoke of giving more power to local authorities and said he would look into giving relief to commerical property developers in the same way the government has stimulated the residential market.

He said: “The pair are not mutually exclusive. We need residiential development and clearly commercial property took a hit during the depth of the recession.

“Whether we can do more to stimulate further property development is a good question and I would like to think on it.”

Sittingbourne’s town centre regeneration plans were on display and attendees visited seminars on how to grow their companies.

Richard Upton
Harrisons director Douglas Rogers was among the exhibitors at the Swale Regeneration Conference

Delegates also got to sample local produce at a Made in Swale stand, while many exhibitors from key commercial sites in the borough showed what their business can offer.

Swale Borough Council leader Cllr Andrew Bowles said: “With all the investment opportunities in the borough, this has really helped us to put Swale on the map.”

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