A business support programme that has created and safeguarded over 10,000 manufacturing jobs is urging local authorities to ensure assistance is still in place under the new funding landscape.
Bosses at the Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP), which provides grants and dedicated consultancy to SME manufacturers in 18 LEP regions, are warning that the potential gap between European Regional Development Funding and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) could see businesses left without the assistance they need.
Regional Director Dean Barnes believes the fragmented nature of UKSPF – where each local district will receive its own pot of money – means it will be difficult to deliver good quality support to management teams that have guided their firms through Brexit and, more recently, Covid-19.
The rallying call comes as MGP reveals its latest performance data, with more than £13.5million in grants delivered to 4300 companies over the last three years.
This has leveraged £21m of private sector investment and helped manufacturers enter new markets, diversify their products/services, improve efficiencies and secure vital quality accreditations.
“We’re about to enter one of the most exciting, but challenging times in business support where the focus will fall away from ERDF and into a new landscape where each place (it could be as small as a District Council) will be given control of what they want to invest in and how they want to shape their local investment plan,” explained Dean.
“It is key that neighbouring councils work together to pool funding to deliver support at a regional level to ensure they get the most out of their budgets and reduce the amount of ‘business support’ noise in the marketplace.”
He went on to add: “The UK Shared Prosperity Fund is intended to help the Government’s desire to ‘level up’, but businesses must have a voice on what they want.
“They don’t just need grant funding, they also want advice, best practice implementation and help with long-term improvements.”
Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and delivered by Oxford Innovation Advice, MGP was launched in 2016 to create a targeted service to support manufacturing SMEs.
This focused on creating a team of Manufacturing Growth Managers who work with management teams on initially completing strategic business reviews.
From there, they provide grant funding and signposting services to specialists that deliver improvement projects in strategic planning, productivity and process improvement, competitiveness, innovation and leadership and management.
Nearly a third of firms so far have chosen to tap into marketing and market knowledge support, followed by a quarter choosing help to improve productivity and 14% wanting assistance with continuous improvement.
Jane Galsworthy, Managing Director of Oxford Innovation Advice, commented: “We are already helping with the ‘levelling up agenda’ by supporting small businesses in less developed areas to grow and have adapted our support model to meet evolving business needs.
“These include continuing to boost productivity, helping firms work towards Net Zero, job creation, internationalisation and, increasingly, embracing digitalisation and Industry 4.0.”
She concluded: “There has been some massive strides forward in business support and we’ve seen first-hand how the right expertise can unlock the potential of some of our brightest SMEs. It would be foolish to throw that all away with the launch of UKSPF funding!”