Opinion

Businesses are missing out on local support

6 min read

07 November 2013

Businesses across Britain could be losing out on billions of pounds of support available right now on their doorsteps. Accessing local help could transform the fortunes of so many entrepreneurs.

But an important new survey suggests that the vast majority of businesses just don’t know what local help they can get and where to get it from.

Huddlebuy surveyed more than 1,800 small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) from up and down the land during October – and the results make very interesting, and in some cases, alarming, reading.

Almost nine out of ten of respondents had not even heard of Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) – despite these being flagship local partnerships between local authorities and businesses that handle billions of pounds’ worth of investment and bid for billions more each year. 

This is particularly concerning because the LEPs have replaced regional development agencies as the key driver of local economic growth and job creation. In other words, it is key that more businesses know about them and take advantage of the range of programmes they offer – from skills, to employment support to innovation to business support services.

Meanwhile more than half of the SMEs surveyed knew nothing about government-subsidised apprentice schemes despite a wealth of political furore about these schemes for many a year. And three out of five businesses said they did not receive any local support from business groups, networks, local authorities or other local businesses.

These alarming results come despite the vast majority of SMEs saying they are crying out for more local help and support. In other words, British businesses are desperate for timely and useful help right now – but just don’t know where and how to get it.

So, in an effort to bridge this yawning gap, read on for some must-do things that every British business, big or small, can do today to get the help they need and deserve.

1. Find out about your LEP

The best starting point to find out where a LEP in your local area is.

Any business should keep a close eye on the latest news, programmes, schemes, bids, initiatives, support services and information coming out of their local LEP.

A top level analysis of the major LEPs in the country shows that there are more than 1,000 current schemes and initiatives that businesses can tap into, including funding, mentoring, apprenticeships, local events, tax and compliance aid and training for employees and employers.

2. Research funding opportunities

A good place to start exploring funding is the Government finance support finder website.

For example, I filtered by London and found 118 current available schemes, from apprenticeships to loan guarantees to growth accelerator programmes.

There are also a myriad of local grant programmes and initiatives available to help businesses grow -the grant finder and j4bgrants are a great way of finding extra funds.

An increasing amount of funds to help start-ups have also emerged in recent years including StartUp Loans – an increasingly important source of funding for new businesses.

3. Get local with business networks

It is clear from the survey results that the vast majority of businesses would value more links locally – and can see the benefits of doing more business in their own neighbourhood.

Local Chambers of Commerce can help you understand the sorts of local resources and networks available. LEPs will also have good contacts with local networks.

Many local councils now offer tailored local business support, whilst larger cities or areas also offer growth hubs with their own unique programmes and services. 

Business networks such as the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors also have local offices.

4. Tap into apprentice, skills and training schemes

The National Scheme for Apprenticeships explains the sort of apprentice schemes that businesses can take advantage of. 

Just as importantly,there are a range of public and private businesses in your local area helping small businesses source apprentices. LEPs and Chambers of Commerce will have more information on these.

The Government business support site outlines free and subsidised training programmes available locally.

The Growth Accelerator scheme, backed by the Government and run by accountants Grant Thornton, helps SMEs who are willing and able to grow rapidly with subsidised local mentoring and support programmes.

And local council initiatives to stimulate employment in their area can also be very useful resources.

As well as so many local programmes, there is also plenty of help on hand to expand further afield. Take UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) which works with UK businesses to ensure their success in international markets and has developed important initiatives such as Open to Export.

In other words there is no shortage of help out there for businesses in the know.
However, it pains me to see that so many entrepreneurs and business people up and down the country are losing out on vital support right under their noses every working day.

So come on British businesses – now you can start getting the help you really need and deserve.