Henry Rigg discusses business support: past, present and future

The world of business support has changed over the years. Here, LEP lead for business growth, Henry Rigg, discusses the pros and cons of past models, why he developed the current LEP growth service and what to look out for in the future.

Family business

I’ve always been around business and am involved in the running of our family firm in North West Leeds, which was originally started by my great grandfather over 100 hundred years ago. I know first-hand, therefore, about the pressures and challenges that small businesses face: keeping on top of cash-flow, the long hours and the changing habits of shoppers.

Past: LDA and Business Link

That personal experience of how small businesses operate stood me in good stead for my first job at the Leeds Development Agency, delivering support to start-ups and SMEs. During this time, I also worked at the first Business Link franchise which was at the district level then and again brought me into direct contact with the challenges and opportunities of running your own small business. I then became involved in setting the standards for business advice, defining the skillset required to be an advisor and assuring a consistent quality can be expected.

Subsequently, I moved to Yorkshire Forward as part of the Enterprise Team and was involved in the development of the regional Business Link model, until it was wound down in 2011.

Business Link did some things really well. It became a well-established brand that businesses recognised, providing a one-stop-shop. In the end, however, I think it over-stretched itself and tried to provide a solution for everything, which had a negative impact on the role of the private sector in advising SMEs.

In my view, it was closed down too quickly and that left a big gap in terms of where businesses can go to actually find out what’s out there to help them. This resulted in a number of new products and services springing up, which were mostly doing good things for businesses, but in a bit of a vacuum. In other words, in isolation of other support and outside of well-established local networks, which can cause duplication and some confusion for firms. That is what the LEP is addressing.

I have worked at all three spatial levels to deliver business support, local, regional and city region level. I firmly believe the optimal level is at the city region level. This is because it is a sensible and real economic geography to work with. At the regional level it’s just too big, the jam is spread too thinly. At the local authority level, you can’t get the scale and breadth you need to deliver a great service.

Present: the LEP

Following Yorkshire Forward, I moved to the LEP where we have now developed a more efficient low cost, high impact model. The aim of our growth service is to make sense of all the products out there, understand them and integrate them. Unlike Business Link, we are not suggesting that all support should come through us as we know businesses get help from range of sources, including other firms.

What we do offer, though, is a free, impartial service that keeps track of all the latest Government-backed products in the market. Our pledge is - if you’re a business rate payer in Leeds City Region, we can tell you what publicly funded support is available to you.

A lot of research has been done demonstrating that businesses who bring in external support are more successful than those who don’t. I encourage businesses to make a modest time investment to bring in different perspectives and expertise. Considering and developing new strategic plans could ultimately save time and make the business more effective in the future.

We recognise, of course, the most important commodity to a growing business is time. I understand there is a perception that engaging with public sector support is bureaucratic and slow. I think it has been in the past and maybe still is for some areas of support, but we have worked hard to streamline our processes and make them more business-friendly. For example, it can take just eight weeks from making a LEP grant application to money being transferred to the bank account of the business.

Future: new products and services

At the LEP, we keep adding to the package of support. A new grant to help businesses to improve their efficient use of resources, including utilities, water and waste will be available from autumn.

I’m also excited about a new start-up grant we hope to launch this year. It will be worth up to £10,000 for new-start and early-stage businesses that have been trading for less than three years.

Also, we really want to expand our successful Export Network. Over 60 local business people, who are experienced in international trade, offer peer-to-peer support to businesses who would like practical advice. It has already helped people to break into new markets.

In May, we were at Manufactured Yorkshire to promote our approach to supply chain development in the city region. This involved gathering direct intelligence from larger businesses on what they are looking for in a supplier, and on the specific opportunities available within their supply chains. We will then work with our extensive range of public and private sector partners to package support for SMEs to take advantage of the opportunities. This may involve training to achieve specific industry accreditations, or capital investment in new machinery that a customer wants parts to be engineered on.

Who we want to speak to

If you’ve got a business and you want to grow it, we want to speak to you. Most of the support we provide access to is government-backed and targeted at SMEs (up to 250 employees) which means there are some sector restrictions for retail or social care firms.

In essence, though, we can support any business that wants to grow, and typically these are usually doing one or several of the below:

  • Investing in the skills of new and existing employees
  • Looking for external funding, be that grants or loans
  • Creating new products and services and interested in working with universities or an innovation partner
  • Exploring new markets and open minded to overseas trade

Get in touch

If you want a quick way to find out what you could be eligible for, please get in touch.

  1. Call us on 0113 348 1818
  2. Email businessgrowth@the-lep.com

Visit the business pages of our website for more information.