As 2014 passes we can look back on a year to remember for our area. A particular high point came on 4th August with the visit of Prince Harry to Folkestone to dedicate the Step Short First World War centenary memorial arch. Folkestone’s significant and appropriate marking of this important anniversary was shown around the world and Step Short was acknowledged by the government as the leading First World War community project in the country. The creation of the arch would not have been possible without the work and support of a great many people, and I would particularly like to thank the Step Short Directors, Paul Emden, Ann Berry, Michael George and Eamonn Rooney, as well as Nikki Emden and Mark Simmons.
Prince Harry was not the only member of the Royal family to visit our area in 2014, as we welcomed Prince Andrew to Hythe to unveil a memorial to the Small Arms School Corps that was first established in the town in 1854. Princess Anne also visited Dungeness to perform the naming ceremony for the new Dungeness lifeboat, 'The Morrell'. This new Shannon class lifeboat was the first of its type in the country to go into active service and was funded entirely from a £2million bequest from the estate of Barbara Morrell.
The Folkestone Triennial was back in 2014 for its third and arguably most impressive art show yet. The Triennial brings visitors from around the world, and the greatest interest this year was for the artist Yoko Ono, whose work, Earth Peace, formed part of the Triennial. After her visit to the town to see her artwork in place and also to pay her respects at the Step Short memorial arch, she announced, “visit Folkestone, it could cleanse your spirit.”
In 2014 we also saw further significant improvements in the local economy. Unemployment has continued to fall. There are now more people in work than ever before and fewer working age households where no-one works, than since records began. In the Folkestone and Hythe constituency the monthly unemployment rate is now about half of its level at the peak of the recession, which means that around 1,000 people who would then have been out of work are now in work. Over 85% of new jobs that have been created are full time jobs. Millions of pounds have been invested through the East Kent regional growth fund and the Marsh Million fund to help local businesses grow and take on new staff. In the autumn we also received the good news about additional government funding through the Local Growth Fund to support new housing and transport infrastructure projects in our area.
Looking forward to 2015, the further improvement in the local economy will create more opportunities. We shortly hope to receive confirmation of a ten year extension to the operating life of Dungeness B power station. Also the multi-million pound investment by Roger De Haan on the harbour arm in Folkestone will see this exciting space re-opened for public use, bringing, I’m sure, more visitors to our area.