Invest, develop, grow - the funding to make it happen


By Roger Marsh - Chair of The LEP

Last month, I had the opportunity to meet some businesses the LEP has supported through its funding programmes at an event to mark two significant milestones: 350 companies supported through our grant and loan investment, and the expected creation as a result of 3,500 jobs.

The passion and enterprising spirit of the businesses in Leeds City Region make this a fantastic place to live and work. However, we know that accessing finance can be one of the more difficult challenges for a small business. Our research suggests that many SMEs have been putting their growth ambitions on hold over the past few years due to the scarcity – both real and perceived – of bank finance. Others which may be eligible for public sector funding simply don’t know where to start. Following meetings with business owners across the region, we wanted to host an event to breakdown some of the myths surrounding access to finance and show what the LEP has to offer to contribute to the overall goal of growing the regional economy.

One of the business owners I spoke to - Nathan Varley, MD of Metalcraft – a sheet metal manufacturer in Bradford – spoke of how our grant had enabled his firm to deliver its ambitious plans for growth by investing in equipment that would allow them to increase production and break into new export markets.

Our grant and loan funding programme have already delivered £50m of funding to businesses in the Leeds City Region and as a result has been able to further business growth, support new jobs and pave the way for the building of 2,700 new homes.

It was fitting that we held our finance event at one of those projects that had benefitted from our loan funding. Unity Works in Wakefield received £1.46m from the LEP in 2013 to transform a neglected heritage building at the heart of the city centre, back into use as a diverse event and community space, and a creative and digital hub for small businesses. The project brought together the public, private and voluntary sectors – and, importantly, the community - to restore the spectacular Unity Hall – a renowned regional music venue in the 60s and 70s where many leading bands, including the Pretenders, got their big break - – and support growth in Wakefield’s fast-growing creative sector.

Not only has the new building provided a new home and innovation space for businesses including the award-winning Statement digital agency, it’s also created jobs and opportunities for local people. As a result of the investment, Holly Dugan started a new apprenticeship in events and marketing. She told the audience at the LEP event how this new role had given her a real boost in confidence as well as experience in a field she had not considered before. She encouraged businesses in the audience to think about taking on an apprentice and give young people the opportunity to earn and learn simultaneously.

Ian Taylor, MD of Media Displays Limited, also in Wakefield, is another business owner who’s been able to bring forward his growth plans with LEP support. In 10 years, he’s taken his digital advertising business from concept to successful, thriving business. Ian spoke about how the grant enabled him meet the demand of the emerging digital market and secure new clients for the future.

The LEP has recently secured further funding to extend the life of the existing funding programmes, as well as the flexibility to introduce new funding streams to meet the needs of businesses in our region. This new funding will be channelled through the LEP’s growth service, set to launch later this year. The new service will provide a one stop shop for businesses looking for advice and support on implementing their growth ambitions. Alongside this offer the LEP will also expand its Export Network, enabling more firms in our region to benefit from advice and assistance from experienced exporters operating in markets around the globe.

I am particularly pleased that in a speech earlier this month in the City Region, the Chancellor announced new funding for the LEP’s skills service. This service will enable businesses to source the skills solutions they require to develop and grow and seek financial support from the LEP to implement. This new service will ensure SMEs are fully equipped with the resources needed to develop a skilled workforce and enable us to respond to the changing skills market in the future.

This is the Leeds City Region’s time for growth. We look forward to meeting businesses in Leeds City Region as we continue on this journey of transformational growth for regional and national advantage.

This article features on the business pages of the Yorkshire Post today - Tuesday 17th February 2015.