The official breaking of the ground to mark the start of the construction of the new Turner Free School in Cheriton took place last Friday. I was delighted to be able to support the event, along with Councillor Ann Berry, the Chairman of Folkestone and Hythe District Council. The Turner is the successor school to Pent Valley Technology College which closed in 2017. Turner started admitting Year 7 pupils in September 2018 and a further new intake of students arrived at the start of this school year. In order to support the growth of the new school, the Department for Education is funding the construction of new buildings on the former Pent Valley site. These will include a university-style lecture theatre that will have a larger seating capacity that the Quarterhouse in Tontine Street, modern design and technology work spaces, and new sports facilities, including a multi-use games area and full-size pitches for football and hockey.
The students at Turner clearly enjoy their new school and it has also quickly won the trust of local parents. The demand for places for pupils to start there in September was very high, it is an excellent achievement for the Turner Free School to already be oversubscribed when the college it replaced was unable to fill its places. I would like to send my congratulations to Jo Saxton, the Chief Executive of Turner Schools, and Kristina Yates, the Principal of the Free School, and their teams, for what has been achieved so far. I look forward to returning to see the new buildings when they open.
Last Friday I also attended a breakfast at the Burlington Hotel organised by Folkestone and Hythe District Council’s business advisory board. With the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s Budget statement this week it was an excellent opportunity to discuss issues that local businesses are facing now. Overall, it’s clear that the result of the general election and the delivery of Brexit at the end of January, have provided certainty to businesses and this has encouraged both firms to make investment decisions and customers to increase their spending. It was encouraging to hear in the new homes sector in particular that schemes which had been put on hold last year have now been given the go ahead. However, the spread of the coronavirus is also having an impact on local businesses, particular those in the hospitality and marketing sectors. Growing public concern about the virus has led to the cancellation of conferences and events and persuaded some people to go out less. I hope that this will be a short-term impact, as cases of the coronavirus start to decline. In the Budget this week though the Chancellor needs to provide some support measures which can give businesses a break now. This could include looking at things like VAT or national insurance holidays for firms and where necessary encouraging the high street banks to increase business lending. I don’t want to see good jobs and otherwise viable businesses put at risk because of the short-term impact of the coronavirus. Looking to the longer term though, the prospects for the local economy look positive.