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New finance drive is launched

A new drive to ensure businesses can get the funding they need to recover from the Covid pandemic has been launched by the Marches Local Enterprise Partnership.

The Marches LEP – the body tasked with driving economic growth across Herefordshire, Shropshire and Telford & Wrekin – says many of the region’s 32,000 businesses will need a wide range of ongoing support in the wake of the pandemic.

The LEP’s Access to Finance group says new figures show that nearly half of all Marches businesses have taken advantage of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) or Bounce Back loans in the past year as the Covid crisis has impacted their finances.

Marches LEP Access to Finance champion Paul Kalinauckas said it was now working to ensure a range of measures were in place to help businesses – and to lobby Government for additional measures.

These included decisions on how to deal with impending business failures and the need for more bespoke support. In addition, there was now a greater demand for Start Up Business Grants and a relaxation of European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) rules regarding job creation to enable growth businesses to access schemes.

Paul said the Access to Finance group had held a special consultation event with a range of organisations to assess what help was needed.    

“The latest figures show that the Bounce Back Loan Scheme has provided roughly £415million to 14,000 businesses in our region, while the CBILS scheme has helped some 744 businesses with £169million.

“We know that businesses will face real pressure when the Government ends its Covid-19 support programmes and are working to ensure that businesses can access the funding they will so urgently need to help them survive, recover and grow.

“The Marches Growth Hub, the one-stop centre for business support and advice, is already playing a crucial role in helping businesses target alternative finance and promoting the huge range of funding options available through both the ERDF and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund (MEIF) and has been inundated with requests from local businesses.

“More than 40 new advisers are already working with the hub across the region to deliver specialised one-to-one support to a range of businesses to help them plan for life after Covid and we are keen to see more of this kind of bespoke support.

“We will also be lobbying for a relaxation of some of the conditions around the ERDF schemes so that they are opened up to growth businesses and also the need for a new programme of start-up grants to help entrepreneurs kickstart their own new enterprises.

“The LEP’s work with public and private sector partners and both the ERDF and MEIF – where we chair one of the key regional advisory boards – means we can work strategically and effectively to ensure business in our region gets the help and support it needs, just when it needs it.”

Paul, who also sits on the MEIF’s Strategic Oversight Board, said latest figures from the Marches Growth Hub showed 127 businesses were referred to a finance and/or funding programme in the six months from April 1 last year, and that demand was certain to increase when lockdown eased.

Meanwhile figures from MEIF showed that its lenders had invested £715,000 in three SMEs in the Marches from April 1 2020 to the end of August last year.

“Both the ERDF and MEIF can provide the finance for which businesses are desperate and the Marches Growth Hub is the gateway to the support they need. I would urge any business which has not been in touch with the hub to see what help is available to do so without delay.”

The Marches Growth Hub has a dedicated business support website at https://www.marchesgrowthhub.co.uk and operates on the ground from Hereford, Shrewsbury and Telford.

Pictured: Paul Kalinauckas

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