It’s been an emotional and dramatic time for North East businesses, and there’s more change to come. As crucial pandemic funding and support from the government winds down, the North East LEP’s Business Growth team is prepared to help businesses and employees to adjust, rebound, and seize their opportunities to be entrepreneurial and brave.
We talked to the LEP’s Business Growth Board chair, Ammar Mirza CBE, about the future.
If the last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s the value of being able to adapt.
The early months of the pandemic were an emotional time. Talking to people faced with this storm, who were scared that they’d lost it all.
The team helped them plan a route ahead. We worked with people who had fallen through the cracks in support, and our partners all mucked in to support one another.
The time and effort they put in was nothing short of humbling. That’s why we do what we do, and why board members volunteer their time. Because we can see the difference we can all make together.
In 2020/21, we worked intensively with around 1,500 businesses of different sizes. Thanks to collaboration with the Business Growth Board and the Business Support Provider Network, we were able to support people starting a business, operating under COVID-19 restrictions, and even acting on new opportunities. We secured £4.4m to help North East businesses weather COVID-19.
We’re starting to see more optimism in the business community. But there’s still some caution and hesitancy. And every shift affects people differently.
Some sectors have never grown as quickly as they have over the last two quarters. But others simply haven’t been able to. That includes leisure and hospitality, and businesses that rely on large-scale events.
Professional services aren’t back in the office at the same scale, and that’s changed the dynamic in our city and town centres. With no commute, we’ve seen significant increases in productivity. But – with the gap between home and office blurring – we need to be mindful of people’s wellbeing.
Money remains the biggest enabler, and the biggest barrier. Many people still remain on furlough. And as the financial support provided during the lockdowns begins to wind up, we’ll see a lot more businesses struggle.
We’ll continue to work with good companies, so that they have a base to build from. But we’re seeing a seismic shift in what’s done, who does what, and how it’s done. Some businesses in the North East and beyond may not survive, in their current form.
But that’s not where our support ends. We’re working to ensure there are initiatives and opportunities in place to help people re-skill and up-skill. But – in parallel with that – we want to help individuals boost their aspiration, and their ambition.
Our aim is to galvanise the entrepreneurial spirit of the North East. We want to help more people start businesses, and grow them. For example, we’re now part of the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme, which saw the launch for a project aimed at increasing and retaining entrepreneurial talent in the region. That will continue in 2021/22.
This is a time of change, but that also means there are so many opportunities out there. We can use this shift to bring in a new breed of entrepreneur, and we’ll do everything possible to help them achieve their dreams.
Ammar Mirza CBE is an award-winning entrepreneur and business founder, and Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board.