26 October 2012

Rural PLC (Kent) launches its first annual report

In the first annual report, published today, the Board of Rural PLC (Kent) revealed that, if Kent’s rural sector was a company, it would be ranked 57th in the FTSE 100 with net assets of £5.4 billion.

The report realistically outlined the challenges facing the county’s farming and rural business community, as well as recognised the outstanding growth potential and opportunities for increased investment, both nationally and internationally. Aligned to this, Rural PLC (Kent) is committed to promoting entrepreneurism and developing job creation.

Commenting on the initiative Mike Bax, Chairman of Rural PLC (Kent) stated, “Without domestic produce there is no food chain in the UK – global pressure consistently threatens to erode this. The food chain needs to change fundamentally. Currently, the downstream end exerts far more influence and is better invested than the upstream end represented by the producer. This is not consistent with other industry sectors and we need to turn this around.”

Rural PLC (Kent) vouches to create a voice and a platform for Kent’s food and farming sectors which have both the strength and the scale to deliver more in economic and social terms. Furthermore, the PLC will pursue Kent’s recognition as the food hub of the UK.

The key recommendations from today’s report include:

  • The establishment of a food investment bank which will do away with the need for farmers to chase grants.
  • The need for additional and new forms of financing for farmers and growers.
  • The return on capital expenditure in the sector needs to increase from 2%.
  • Encourage more people to choose a career in the sector at all academic levels and support with education and training.
  • Provide help to rural entrepreneurs.

Kent is home to over 500 food-related companies that employ approximately 18,000 people.  Over 40% of businesses are located in the rural areas of Kent and these generate around 25% of the Gross Value Added (GVA).  However, access to funding is the biggest issue currently faced by the rural sector and the narrow range of options slows development when compared to other business areas in the county.

The report concludes that there is hunger for investment in infrastructure, facilities and marketing but this is often beyond the reach at farmer level.  The majority of farm businesses recognise the need for innovation however, environment and energy are also of paramount importance.  Kent, with its 925,000 acres of rural land,  has massive potential in taking the industry forward.