This week saw a gathering of business leaders from over 100 companies across the West Midlands, at a special West Midlands Economic Summit in Birmingham – drawn together to discuss the current economic downturn with Government Ministers.

Myself and Ian Austin MP, Regional Minister for the West Midlands, were joined by Business Secretary Lord Mandelson to hear our regional business community’s first-hand experiences of the credit crunch.  Once again we painted a picture of a resilient region under pressure.  Once again the Government listened.

I was pleased to use the opportunity to announce that Advantage West Midlands is to launch a £4 million Transition Loan Fund to help address the problems businesses are already facing in obtaining credit through banks and other traditional routes.

Based on the successful loan rescue package established in the wake of the MG Rover collapse at Longbridge in 2005, the Transition Loan Fund will offer viable businesses loans of between £50,000 and £250,000 to help bridge the gap for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) suffering short-term funding problems due to the current financial crisis.

This fund will be in addition to the range of finance schemes currently offered by Advantage West Midlands.

The Advantage Transition Bridge Fund threw a lifeline to MG Rover’s supply chain companies, making loans totalling £5.4 million, safeguarding around 1400 jobs.

We’re looking to the new fund to have a similar level of success.

Whilst we can’t guarantee jobs across the region, we can guarantee that Advantage West Midlands is doing all it can to work with businesses to ensure the impact of the current crisis is minimised – we can also guarantee that should you lose your job as a result of the downturn, we are putting in place the support you need to get you back into work.

We know this current economic crisis is the biggest challenge the region has faced in recent times. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and it is vital we support them at this critical time.  It is the lessons we’ve learnt from the past which will enable us to take effective action is this difficult time.

Right now, one of the key messages from West Midlands business is the need to obtain working capital in the short term to sustain and develop business activities during the economic crisis.

The Transition Loan Fund is a response that will not only help businesses get that short-term finance they need, it will also help ensure that the region’s economy as a whole is in good shape when we emerge from the downturn.

* This column is sponsored by Advantage West Midlands