Gullands meet Maidstone & the Weald?s new MP Helen Grant
On 6 May Helen Grant was elected MP for Maidstone & the Weald, replacing the long-standing Ann Widdecombe. Gullands chairman, Blair Gulland, was one of the first to congratulate her when he met with her to discuss what the business community can expect.
How will you help Maidstone compete to attract new jobs and businesses?
I will work with the Borough and County Council together with our business leaders to help them promote Maidstone & the Weald as a great place for people to live and work and for businesses to start up and relocate. Among other things, this will include seeing projects such as the regeneration of the town centre coming to fruition and redressing our badly depleted commuter rail services.
What message of support do you have for the rural/agricultural sector?
Apart from my youngest years, I had the good fortune to be raised in rural Cumbria amidst the farming and agricultural community and started my professional career there as a trainee solicitor. I find myself totally at home with the rural aspect of this constituency and believe I have an inherent understanding for the way of life here. That is one reason why my family has chosen to live in beautiful rural Marden. Engaging with the business and community leaders within the rural economy has been a focus of my attention since becoming selected as a PPC here two and a half years ago and I will relish helping them champion the many issues they face as MP.
Why do you think your background as a solicitor will help you best represent the business community?
I think it is my background as a business owner more than being a solicitor that will help me in that respect. Employing 20 people, including a dozen lawyers, operating within a heavily regulated profession I have a good understanding of the issues faced by business owners. Red tape and bureaucracy, health and safety, the caustic culture of rights and litigation and the onerous employment legislation that has crawled into business life over the past 10 years or so – don’t get me going. But understanding and addressing the operational issues is just one aspect of being equipped to represent business people; identifying and securing opportunities for growth and development is just as important and, in my opinion, Maidstone and the surrounding area has immense untapped potential in that regard.
Can you tell me about your business forum – is this something that will continue?
The business forum started after 96% of the responses I received from a local business survey indicated that the business community in Maidstone & the Weald did not think the government understood their needs. That prompted me to set up a direct line of communication between local businesses, local government and the then Shadow Cabinet as a forum for ideas and debate.
Most recently, the third forum event in 12 months attracted around 150 important employers and business people in mid-Kent’s rural business sector. They heard about what a Conservative government will do for farmers and the rural community, and gave delegates a platform to put questions to the panel. The simple engagement of producers, local and regional authorities and national government creating multilateral discussion has to be a positive thing in my view.
As for the future, these forum events take a huge amount of organisation but as long as enough people wish to attend and engage, I will continue to invite them to come together.
How can businesses and individuals engage with you?
By writing to me, inviting me to group meetings and events, meeting me at my office, inviting me to visit you at your place of work.