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The future's bleak - bit it could be worse!

Kent and Medway face the prospect of rising unemployment but could fare better than the rest of the country, according to a chamber chief.

Tracey Manley, chief executive of Thames Gateway Kent Chamber of Commerce, based in Medway, said all the regeneration projects in the area might help it fare a little better than elsewhere.

But she admitted the situation was "quite scary."

"I think we’re all going to be hit within the next year to 18 months one way or the other and I think most companies will stay safe and not take on any more employees," she said.

She said there was no evidence on any scale of members laying off staff.

"We’ve got the average turnover of staff but no-one has come back and said there going to be laying off people. I’m sure it will come somewhere along the line. "

She was also optimistic that Olympic projects ahead of the 2012 London Games would also help the area avoid the full impact of the economic downturn.

Ms Manley’s comments were made after the publication of a gloomy economic forecast predicting the UK jobless total is likely to rise by up to 300,000 over the next two to three years, pushing it above the two million mark for the first time in more than a decade.

The British Chambers of Commerce quarterly survey bases its conclusions on data from members across the UK, including Thames Gateway Kent Chamber, Invicta Chamber, and Channel Chamber.

The Chamber warned that business faces two difficult years.

It said there was now a distinct possibility of a recession, and called on the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee to cut interest rates, claiming the longer it waited, the bigger the danger that the situation will deteriorate and "policy choices more difficult and unpleasant."

David Kern, economic adviser to the BCC, said: "Our quarterly economic forecast highlights a significant worsening in UK economic prospects. There is now a distinct possibility of technical recession.

"The level of UK unemployment is likely to increase by nearly 300,000 over the next few years, reaching almost two million. An increase above two million cannot be ruled out."

The latest forecast comes just days after a rise of 500 in the number of people claiming unemployment benefit across the county.

Medway’s jobless total rose by 131 to 3,733 and the rest of Kent by 377 to 13,727, a combined total of 17,460.

A recent quarterly survey of 1,200 bosses by KPMG and the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) found that 27 per cent of employers are planning redundancies, up from 22 per cent in the previous quarter.

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