Enterprise and employment schemes across the region have learnt they face a funding shortfall after regional development agency Advantage West Midlands cut its budget by £132 million. Hannah Brenton examines how North Staffordshire will be affected by the loss of funding.
Business leaders say vital initiatives to rejuvenate North Staffordshire face the axe unless new funding is found quickly.
Key projects in Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent were among 65 in the region which have had funding withdrawn by Advantage West Midlands (AWM) after it was forced to trim costs by the Government.
The agency has announced it will no longer provide £1.3 million for the regeneration of Newcastle Town Centre as part of the cutbacks and networking schemes Business Brokers for High Growth and Collabor-8 will also not receive any money.
The North Staffordshire Employment and Skills Service and Apprenticeship Centre KMF Metals were also declined funding while AWM said it was focusing its efforts on Stoke-on-Trent’s university quarter, business district and the further development of Keele University Science and Business Park.
Tony Joynson, project manager at inward investment agency InStaffs, said the decision-makers behind some regeneration schemes would have to go back to the drawing board after funding was pulled.
Mr Joynson said: “AWM funding was a crucial element to some schemes and in some cases partners will have to look closely and consider cuts.
“The funding cuts were inevitable because Advantage West Midlands have had their budgets top-sliced.
“But in some parts AWM funding plays only a minor role, and work can still go ahead.”
Mr Joynson said funding for Newcastle-under-Lyme’s town centre was particularly crucial and feared some schemes would have to go back to the drawing board.
He said North Staffordshire could pay the price for delaying regeneration plans until the recession hit.
He said: “It has taken a long time to get to a position where regeneration is about to pay off in a meaningful way and then we get the downturn.
“This is not devastating but it would have been nice to get some runs on the board before the economic downturn hit.
“It is going to take longer and some of the projects are going to have to be cut because from a developer standpoint the numbers are not working at the moment.”
He added: “I don’t know what proportion of the funding for Newcastle town centre came from Advantage West Midlands but I would have thought it would have been instrumental.
“It is acknowledged as a major centre for North Staffordshire and the plans were vital. Newcastle is important as a borough and Stoke-on-Trent as a unitary authority.
“Newcastle is going to be a little annoyed but I don’t know much of that shortfall can be rescued by the zone implementation budget.”
Run-down areas of Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre were being targeted for regeneration, part-funded by AWM, as part of on-going proposals to improve North Staffordshire’s urban core, alongside work on Stoke-on-Trent Railway Station and Hanley. The plans included new market stalls, the redevelopment of a bus station and a redesign of the high street.
Meanwhile, North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry has had funding for Collabor-8 and Business Brokers for High Growth pulled.
Ian McLaughlan, business development manager at the chamber, said it would be extremely difficult to secure enough funding to keep both projects running.
Organisers of Business Brokers for High Growth were hoping to secure up to 20 per cent of its total funding from AWM.
It was established to organise a trading fair for up to 1,000 North Staffordshire companies, aimed at improving the fortunes of businesses through focused events and one-to-one support. The initiative also set out to help firms to access local funding and initiatives and to encourage links with their communities.
Mr McLaughlan said he was confident that the initiative would go forward despite the AWM funding cut and he was considering applying for funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), which has to be matched by 50 per cent public funding.
He said that “we can pull further public funding into Business Brokers”, and another meeting will be held with AWM in the coming weeks in the hope of securing more capital.
However, he was more downbeat about the prospects for Collabor-8, as he believes it will be more difficult to secure alternative funding.
The chamber was hoping AWM funding would reach about 40 per cent of the total budget for the scheme which aimed to work with small and medium-sized businesses in manufacturing and professional services to help them to “punch above their weight”.
Mr McLaughlan said replacing the AWM funding was going to very difficult.
“If it does continue it will be in a very, very different format,” he added. “I don’t know where we’re going to get the money.”
Elsewhere, a spokesman for KMF Metals said an Apprenticeship Centre would “definitely” still go ahead, despite the loss of AWM funding. The centre is already being built and will provide training for staff.
A spokesman for AWM said the agency invests in the region of £10 million a year into North Staffordshire projects.
North Staffordshire schemes which will still receive funding:
UniQ (university quarter): The agency will put forward £36 million of the £282 million project for a state-of-the-art learning quarter, bringing together Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent College and Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College, alongside further improvements between the railway station and the city centre.
Central Business District AWM has also signed up to fund part of the new private sector hub in Stoke-on-Trent city centre. The plans include about 1.2 million square feet of office, retail and hotel space, creating more than 4,200 jobs and boosting the North Staffordshire economy by nearly £19 million a year.
Keele University Science and Business Park The agency will still put up some of the capital for the next phase of the business park in the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme, which already houses dozens of biotechnology, service, medical, and IT companies.
Burslem Townscape Heritage Initiative 2 The latest scheme to regenerate Stoke-on-Trent’s mother town. The first heritage initiative, in 2000, saw more than £4 million invested.
Business Brokers A network for managers and brokers in private, public and voluntary sector organisations who are responsible for brokering business involvement in multi-sector partnerships that contribute to regeneration and neighbourhood renewal.
North Staffordshire schemes to miss out on funding:
Newcastle-under-Lyme town centre An extensive rejuvenation of the town centre aiming to stay true to Newcastle’s historic roots, while incorporating its more recent function as a university town and redeveloping rundown areas. Among the proposed changes to the town centre is a new town square, an avenue of lime trees, new market stalls, redeveloping the bus centre and a redesign of the high street. The refurbishment of the Lancaster Buildings in the town centre has received AWM support.
Collabor-8 North Staffordshire Chamber of Commerce and Industry project aiming to help small and medium-sized businesses in the manufacturing and professional service sectors work together more closely.
Business Brokers for High Growth The project would organise North Staffordshire’s largest inter-trading fair for up to 1,000 companies and aim to boost business performance with focused events and one-to-one support. AWM is investigating whether this activity can be incorporated into the existing business support provision in North Staffordshire.
KMF Metals Apprenticeship Centre An apprenticeship centre to be set up to train staff at KMF Metals in Newcastle-under-Lyme. KMF Metals is the market leader in the supply of precision sheet metal solutions. It owns an 80,000 sq ft modern production facility in North Staffordshire and employs 250 permanent staff.
North Staffordshire Employment and Skills Service Part of the Job Employment and Training programme for North Staffordshire, which aims to train workers and help create a more diverse skill base.