A project that has supported more than 500 businesses and convinced many to remain in the West Midlands is set to be scrapped with the demise of Advantage West Midlands.
The Business Engagement programme run by West Midlands Chambers has worked with 535 businesses on a range of issues but is now under threat because of the coalition’s decision to abolish the regional development agencies.
Helen Phillips, the LLP’s director of business development, said the programme’s only hope of survival was by successfully accessing the Regional Growth Fund (RGF) – worth £1.4 billion nationally – set up by the coalition government. She said: “We have put together a case designed to persuade the Government that we need to carry on this vital work in the West Midlands through the RGF.
“The proposal is fully supported by the six Chambers of Commerce who make up the LLP-based consortium and who are also founding members of the new Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). It will be a key vehicle in providing high level meaningful intelligence which will provide information for Local Authorities and the private sector to develop strategic thinking and priority setting and in turn help them to shape future support”.
With reductions in public sector funding and the demise of the RDAs, the Business Engagement project has suffered funding cuts totalling £330,000 and will come to an end by June next year unless further support is granted through the RGF.
Since the programme’s inception it has helped 191 companies to diversify their domestic or overseas markets in the UK by providing market intelligence and assistance to access R&D funding, it has helped 222 companies develop staff and source graduates and apprentices, 128 companies innovate their products, 35 companies to expand and 19 companies to keep their staff and current investment in the West Midlands.
Examples include assisting a company to set up a manufacturing operation in Smethwick, avoiding a factory closure in 18 months and saving 50 jobs. The programme also facilitated a relationship between a large construction company with its local county council to discuss procurement opportunities.
The programme also helped a foreign-owned company in the automotive sector that employs more than 200 people in the region to raise finance for new projects, resulting in a significant increase in turnover and redundancies being avoided. It has also worked alongside UK Trade & Investment to safeguard a £50m investment by one company while working with another to get their rates rescheduled which in turn helped them sell off their surplus factories.
Ms Phillips added: “Without RGF support the project as proposed will be abandoned. There are enduring reasons why the project should continue in its current format, not least because of the relationships that have been developed and the independent role that the Chambers have played already in removing barriers to growth and development, helping businesses to achieve sustainable growth and create new jobs.
“If the RGF bid is successful our intention is to explore levering additional funding, possible from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).”