Commuting across the Channel

Across much of France, house prices have dipped by an estimated 25%.

In Kent, the average price for a home is more than £200,000, a figure which is virtually unaffordable for most
first-time buyers despite Help to Buy and euphemistic “affordable” schemes.

A typical first-time buyer is 38 when they step onto the first rung of the housing ladder.

That’s great for buy-to-let landlords but bad for self-esteem, family life and the economy.

Skilled folk from the North don’t apply for jobs because of house prices.

Yet, in France, where I have just spent a few days, there’s an abundance of homes for sale at reasonable prices. Plenty of land of course but the contrast with Kent is stark.

Friends have just bought a 19th century house with two juliet balconies for about £80,000. In every town and village, there are a vendre signs.

In property terms, we are oceans, let alone a 20-mile channel, apart.

It’s a similar story for the jobless, with double-digit unemployment in northern France. We need to equalise the situation.

One way would be to enable more people to travel quickly, easily and cheaply by train.

Kent workers could live in France and commute, while skilled French workers could work in the county and go home at night. Over the years, I have written about the need for a Transmanche rail metro system linking Ashford, Pas-de-Calais and Lille. Business people in Nord-Pas de Calais, backed by the French Embassy in London, have long campaigned for this vital transport project.

Cross border regional commuting is common elsewhere, for example in Denmark and Sweden where commuters travel daily between Copenhagen and Malmo.

The Transmanche idea has been given impetus by Boris Johnson’s suggestion that London’s housing needs could be met by building 215,000 new homes in Canterbury, Medway, Dover and Thanet.

As if we don’t have enough housing challenges of our own!

Calais businessman Thaddee Segard, a regular visitor and good friend of Kent, has long been an advocate of a metro linking the county and Nord-Pas de Calais.

He said recently: “Let’s be practical and innovative, there is plenty of space for running a commuter train through the tunnel and solve each other’s problems.”

Thaddee Segard is an advocate of a metro linking Kent and Nord-Pas de Calais
Thaddee Segard is an advocate of a metro linking Kent and Nord-Pas de Calais

Eurotunnel likes the idea. It would, of course, bring more revenue and, with only 53% of Chunnel capacity used at the moment, there is undoubted room. But Eurostar has ruled it out several times.

Kent County Council has been working on the idea for a long time but little has come of it. The French support it but we need political will and investor support on this side of the Channel.

The next government should give Transmanche Metro urgent consideration.

Volunteering so rewarding

Volunteering is vital to a civilized society, not just because it relieves cash-strapped organisations of a cost but is also a good thing for the individual.

The Best Employer category in the Kent Excellence in Business Awards (KEiBA) rewards such behaviour.

Finalists encourage their staff to be involved in local good causes by helping in a hospice or repairing a Scout hut.

Royal British Legion Industries at Aylesford has launched a volunteering scheme to expand its support to residents, ex-service personnel and others in the community. It deserves to succeed.

Royal British Legion Industries at Aylesford has launched a volunteering scheme
Royal British Legion Industries at Aylesford has launched a volunteering scheme

While volunteering should be voluntary, I was pleased to hear an election pledge to encourage employers to offer employees time off to give practical help to good causes.

Small employers may worry about yet another burden but volunteering pays off in employee satisfaction, improved performance, personal development and employer reputation.

And it’s good news for the charity helped by volunteers.

The level of debate so shallow

How good it was, during my visit to France, to be detached from the wall-to-wall electioneering.

The level of debate is so shallow at times. Personal attacks go hand-in-hand with party representatives promising the earth to “buy” votes, like snake-oil salesmen and quack doctors.

Do voters really fall for these short-term bribes? Will they be delivered anyway?

For the government, why didn’t they do it in office? For the opposition, why not when in power?

I have been struck by such little focus on the big issues like education standards, food security and rural business.

Without the jobs and financial contribution from business and its employees, pledges of yet more funding for the NHS are unachievable.

For all the spending on education, why do so many employers complain about lack of basic skills among young recruits? Political tinkering over decades is one reason.

Few politicians have any experience or understanding of business. The best business brains are turned off entering politics by the criticism and cynicism routinely heaped on MPs.

Sadly, that gives us a governing class with little knowledge of the real world of private enterprise. It will be no different after May 7.

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