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Evolving the lieutenancy of Kent

ALLAN WILLETT: Royal representative
ALLAN WILLETT: Royal representative

FOR the past millennium our proud and ancient county of Kent has stood rock solid and unconquered as our nation’s vanguard.

Today’s threats are of a different kind, but nonetheless serious, and I strongly believe that in this new millennium the Lieutenancy of Kent can play a key role in defending -- and championing -- the county.

There are many organisations, local government and voluntary, that do an excellent job in fighting Kent’s corner. But I believe that as the Crown’s

representatives, the Lieutenancy is uniquely positioned to supply a cohesive force that binds the county together.

Over the next few years Kent will be faced with a sometimes daunting array of forces of change. The North West of our county is part of the Thames Gateway Development, London is expanding eastwards, the Medway Towns will be engulfed and the ripple effect of that will be profound and far-reaching across Kent.

In 2007, the travel time by train from Ashford to central London will reduce to about 38 minutes. The eastern part of the county therefore, with its time proximity also to Paris and Brussels, will be transformed.

Furthermore, the current government, like its predecessors, is once again threatening to disrupt how our county is administered, and there is a danger that this could weaken the name of Kent and the cohesion of our community.

Our people also face the same challenges as other counties from the forces of globalisation and all that means in terms of a loss of identity and the necessity to create a knowledge based economy.

It is within this context of change that I see the Lieutenancy -- myself and the Deputy Lieutenants -- working together as a team across Kent to create a cohesion, championing the sense of identity and representing the soul of this ancient county -- thereby adding value to our communities.

Appointing Deputy Lieutenants is the county’s way of honouring and recognising a person’s achievements. The appointment can also be an opportunity to play an increasing part in the life of the county and its communities.

We are here to serve Her Majesty and the county –- a great privilege. The monarchy may have some critics among the chattering classes, but during Golden Jubilee year the outpouring of affection and gratitude demonstrated the great bond that The Queen by her unstinting service over 50 years has created between herself and the people.

Of one thing I am sure: the monarchy is both a constant standard and also at the same time is evolving successfully. The Lieutenancy across this county must be seen to be doing so also and I have invited each of the Deputy Lieutenants to play a part in this.

We need to be integrated and visible to our communities, and be knowledgeable about all the key sectors, elements and institutions that make up the county –- and which are themselves constantly evolving and changing.

I see us developing four key networks made up of the local authorities, the local communities of each Deputy Lieutenant within each district and borough boundary, sectors of the community, and the patronages and presidencies of a great variety of county organisations that many of us hold.

We are in a process of building and maintaining relationships with the political leaders and the chief executives of each of the boroughs and districts. My public sector roles as a Director of Locate in Kent, the East Kent Enterprise Agency and Chairman of the East Kent Forum before becoming Chairman of SEEDA has helped here, knowing all the key players and understanding the issues.

The relationships with Kent County Council and Medway have already in effect been created and we are meeting regularly for discussions.

I plan to visit each district or borough once a year to be briefed by the leader and the chief executive on key issues facing their communities. There is no desire for us to get involved politically, but we do need to know what is going on.

The first two visits, are to Shepway on 11th March, and to Tunbridge Wells on 9th April. These invitations have been very much welcomed. In working with the local authorities we are going with the grain, because current policy is increasingly encouraging them to take a lead in the community rather than just being local executives. We have common cause here and we need to build on that.

The second network is made up of the local communities of each Deputy Lieutenant. We propose that all the Deputy Lieutenants of each district or borough should ensure that they know what is going on and that they are the eyes and ears of the Lieutenancy in their immediate area.

Particularly I hope they will advise proactively on potential events warranting Royal visits, local people suitable for honours or for invitations to Buckingham Palace Garden Parties, which I know are very much appreciated, and anniversaries warranting a message from The Queen. Additionally I hope they will advise the Honours Committee which I have established on the suitability of people who have been put up directly for honours.

Finally I hope they will advise me of suitable occasions when I can visit the local area – and I am particularly anxious to visit all areas so I can meet a cross section of the community every two years.

The network of patronages and presidencies was largely inherited from Lord Kingsdown who served this county so well and with such dedication in his 20 years as Lord Lieutenant.

The fourth activity is for us to break down the county by sectors and for each of these to have a lead Deputy Lieutenant.

I have no doubt that when each community begins to see for example the Lieutenancy help get a Royal visit to open their village hall or school, put the name of a deserving person forward for an honour or an invitation to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party, or organise the sending of a special message from The Queen to a person’s parents on their Diamond Wedding Day, they will recognise that we are adding value to their community.

It is not unrealistic to foresee a thousand visits a year involving the Lieutenancy in a few years time. We can only serve Her Majesty and this County if people are aware of us and that we are adding value. We have to add value. The Lieutenancy has to be a cohesive force in this county. There isn’t another one. Kent has taken 1,000 years to create. We have a serious responsibility on our shoulders.

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