In conversation: Dinah Jackson discusses the Rural Growth Programme’s current funding calls

With more than £10 million to invest in businesses in the North East LEP area, Dinah Jackson, North East LEP Business Growth Programme Manager, outlines how the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) Growth Programme will unlock business investment across the region to create jobs and growth.

We’re thrilled to be able to announce that the deadline for submission of Expressions of Interest to the RDPE Growth Programme has been extended to 31 May 2018. This gives an additional four months for businesses to apply for three grants which are available: rural business development, rural tourism and food processing. The Growth Programme provides capital funding to support projects that invest in building businesses, creating new jobs and growing the economy in rural areas.

We’re extremely pleased with the decision to extend the deadline for the benefit of the rural economy. We hope that the grant will incentivise businesses to bring forward their investment plans despite the uncertainty of current times. Individual projects could be eligible for up to 40% grant funding in most cases, and in some cases a higher grant threshold is available (for some specific projects to build our rural tourism infrastructure).

With more than £10 million to invest in businesses in the North East LEP area, businesses are invited to submit expressions of interest as soon as possible to give the maximum amount of time available to deliver individual projects.

So what types of projects can the Growth Programme fund?

Here are some examples of the kinds of projects that could be eligible for a grant:

Rural business development grants – New equipment or machinery that creates productivity and efficiency gains, new premises or facilities that diversify farming activities

Food processing grants – Expansion of a meat cutting and processing plant to meet new international markets, a new milk processing facility or expansion to an existing soft fruit processing facility to enable processing of lower quality and lower value fruit to supply growing markets for end products

Rural tourism – New footpaths, bridleways or cycle paths, extending a local museum or new high quality visitor accommodation

We now need good strong applications from rural businesses, rural tourism businesses and food processing businesses to ensure that we maximise the economic benefit returned to the North East from the programme.

Here are some top tips that will help you progress your project to create growth and jobs:

How do you apply for a Growth Programme grant?

The first step is to identify whether you are eligible. It may sound overly simple, but if you don’t meet basic eligibility requirements, you cannot apply.

Are you an eligible business, located in an eligible area, intending to carry out eligible activities?

With the exception of applicants for food processing grants, your business must be located in the rural North East. You can use the postcode checker tool

Whilst all business development and tourism projects must be in the Rural Growth Network area, your food processing project might be eligible in the urban parts of our region, depending on the exact nature of your project.

The next stage is to follow carefully the advice provided by RPA.

Clearly written handbooks are available for each of the three calls provided by the Rural Payments Agency (RPA), the grant administrator. The handbooks set out information on what activity is eligible (and what activities aren’t) and how to apply. They also give a summary of our local priorities for rural business growth. Your project will need to deliver against national and local priorities.

Each project will be considered on its own merit and the application process is competitive. This means grants are not awarded automatically to an applicant. The RPA will assess all expressions of interest to see which best meet the criteria. This is through a rigorous two-part application process (starting with submitting an ‘expression of interest’) to tell RPA about the work you’re doing and how the grant could help you with it.

If RPA assesses that your expression of interest is suitable, they will invite you to submit a full application.

Top tips for applicants

Before you start an application, here are some important reminders…

Jobs + growth + rural

Every successful application starts with a good idea and a clear plan for how to make that idea a reality. The whole aim of the RDPE Growth Programme is to create jobs and growth in the rural economy. Your application will need to show how your project will help do this.

Sell your idea

Explain clearly what your project does and how it will benefit the economy.
Show what the funding will mean to the success of your project. If you can show that your project is good value for money, and that you’re planning to use the grant money to improve your project, you’re more likely to produce a successful application.

Do the market research

Explain how there is real demand for what you want to do.

Be prepared

You will need to keep detailed records about your project, because you’ll have to provide proof (including detailed quotes) of how much the various elements of your project will cost.

An information event discussing the available funding, the types of projects funded and the application process will be held on Monday, 11 December at Wansbeck Workspace, Ashington. To book a place at this free event, click here.

For further information
For further help on growing your idea, see further information at  call the Defra Helpline on 03000 200 301, or email the Growth Programme at [email protected].

In conversation with Andrew Hodgson: Even a small rise in productivity has a big economic impact

Boosting productivity is one of the key economic challenges of our age and is an issue the North East Local Enterprise Partnership is setting out to help tackle through the launch of a new pilot programme.

Growth Hub High Performance collaborates with senior business leaders to develop and deliver strategy and business models that drive higher levels of performance, profitability and competitiveness.

Delivered through the North East Growth Hub, the scheme will help companies learn from senior business leaders through specialist performance coaching, peer driven workshops and best practice visits.

The pilot programme supports the LEP’s pledge to create more and better jobs for the regional economy – better quality jobs being driven by better productivity.

If all businesses raise their productivity performance, even by only a little, the economic impact will be significant.

Poor productivity is holding back the growth of the UK economy as a whole and is the subject of much debate amongst business leaders, Government ministers and economic analysts.

A landmark recent report by Sage and Nesta into small and medium-sized businesses in the UK, mapped entrepreneurs at a local authority level for the first time.

‘The State of Small Business’ showed a postcode lottery in productivity levels – with SMEs in the most productive local authority in the UK 26 times more productive than those in the least.

Such a patchwork of performance is not good news for a national economy ranked the least productive of the G7 nations.

If businesses are not helped to be more productive then their profit margins will be squeezed, they therefore can’t pay people more and living standards will fall.

Companies become less competitive and less profitable which ultimately slows both business and economic growth.

Greater productivity is a challenge set down in the region’s Strategic Economic Plan as one that the North East must meet as a priority to bridge the widening gap we have with the UK’s productivity level as a whole.

Helping companies to become more productive is widely recognised as being a catalyst for economic growth, higher wages and greater competitiveness.

To tackle this challenge, the North East LEP is working with the industry lead Productivity Leadership Council, chaired and formed by Sir Charlie Mayfield in 2015.

Businesses learn best from other businesses so our approach in the new Growth Hub High Performance programme is structured around best practice sharing between peers.

It will introduce participants to exemplar firms from across the region, as well as providing access to the practical tools and techniques that can be used to implement improvements.

The programme is structured around the key drivers of high performance such as future planning, leadership, talent development and the adoption of digital technology.

The High Performance programme isn’t for everyone; it’s specifically aimed at senior leaders from businesses with between ten and 50 employees. Critically, participants must have a strong desire to transform their company’s performance and be prepared to dig deep and fully participate in this short yet challenging programme.

It is structured around four, full day, peer driven workshops which begin next month.

For more details go to


In conversation with Paul Lancaster: Newcastle Startup Week and Newcastle Scaleup Summit

When I first started planning our 5-day, region wide and multi-venue ‘Newcastle Startup Week’ festival way back in September, the North East LEP were one of the first organisations to get behind us as they could see the value of creating a new event to inspire and encourage more people to start and grow a business in the North East.

Having spent almost 15 years helping other people start and grow their own business whilst working for local enterprise agencies, youth enterprise schemes, community groups and Government organisations, I know there’s a huge amount of advice, support and goodwill in our region and a close-knit business community of people who want others to succeed. Even so, if it’s not your job to be aware of what’s on offer, it can be difficult to know who and where to go for the best advice for your business which is why we set out to put everything on a plate in one week.

It was an ambitious event to put on, with many different aims, but I’m delighted to report that our event on 15-19 May 2017 was a huge success with over 600 people coming together across the week. One of the things I’m most pleased about was that we managed to attract people from the whole business community, of all ages and walks of life, from other regions and countries, and from many different sectors too. This wasn’t just a ‘tech’ conference. It was a festival for anyone with an idea for a new business or project, or who enjoys helping innovators and entrepreneurs bring their ideas to life and fulfil their potential.

Throughout the week, we saw new ideas emerge, connections being made, products launch, business partnerships form and money exchange and I’m happy to say this has continued to happen in the weeks since which is very exciting to see and something we will continue to help delegates with over the coming weeks and months.

Our first Newcastle Startup Week really worked, so my fantastic festival co-producer Sarah Crimmens and I have already started planning our next one in May/June 2018 which we expect will be an even bigger success for everyone involved! In the meantime, we’ll be running a 1-day ‘Newcastle Scaleup Summit’ at the Live Theatre on Thursday 23 November 2017 which will help delegates grow their business or at least see exactly what they need to do to move to the next level.

Going deeper into the topics we covered on our ‘Growing & Scaling’ day during Newcastle Startup Week (sales, marketing, PR, recruitment, innovation, mindset), our full-day Newcastle Scaleup Summit will feature a range of speakers in the morning who will share personal and practical insights on how they grew their own business, or can demo products, services or programmes they provide to help others fulfil their potential.

These will then be followed by facilitated workshops, breakout sessions and 1-2-1s where delegates can put the ideas into practise and immediately start using any products, services or programmes that will help them grow and scale.

We’re delighted to say that the North East LEP is already onboard as one of our Headline Sponsors and will be on hand to not only explain why ‘scaleups’ are important to the North East economy but show how businesses can benefit from the wide range of mentoring, coaching, training, networking and growth funding packages they are supporting from that day onwards.

A full schedule and speaker line-up will be announced soon but ‘Early Bird’ tickets are on sale now for just £80 at

We look forward to seeing you there!

Paul Lancaster
(aka @lordlancaster)
Founder & Event Producer
Newcastle Startup Week +
Newcastle Scaleup Summit

North East business leaders urged to begin preparations for Brexit

Businesses in the North East are being urged to prepare for Brexit by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

In association with the CBI and Newcastle-based law firm Ward Hadaway, the team at the North East LEP is hosting a free briefing event called The Impact of Brexit on Business, at which speakers from each of the organisations will provide local, national, legal and practical perspectives on the changes Brexit will bring for the region’s businesses.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said: “The reality is that we don’t yet know the minutiae of how Brexit will affect business but that doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to prepare for the changes it will bring.

“The key question therefore is how can businesses best prepare for what’s largely unknown? We’ll be talking more about managing risk, developing a flexible and adaptive culture, and advising business leaders on where they can go for advice as the implications of Brexit become clearer.”

The free seminar, which takes place on Wednesday 21 June, is aimed at senior management in the private sector.

Sarah Glendinning, Regional Director of the CBI, will talk about the national perspective on Brexit, Colin Bell will give an update on the North East perspective, and Colin Hewitt, Partner and Head of Commercial at Ward Hadaway, will talk about legal and practical considerations.

“This event will be particularly important for any companies trading within Europe or looking to establish markets overseas,” said Colin Bell.

“Having the ability to manage and lead your business and its people through change is going to be critical and it’s never too early to start the process of planning for this.”

Colin Hewitt from Ward Hadaway said: “There has been an awful lot of talk about Brexit since the vote to leave the EU last June, obviously many businesses are unsure about what it will mean for them and how they can best prepare for what is to come.

“The general election result has of course thrown further uncertainty into the mix, with a potential change in the approach to negotiations.

“Despite this, there are some issues that businesses can start to address and some practical steps which companies can take now in order to prepare themselves for what the Brexit negotiations may bring.

“Attending this seminar will give senior managers a useful overview of some of the key issues, where we currently stand, what they can expect over the coming months and what they can start to do now to be ready to meet the challenges.”

The North East LEP will be holding regular events on Brexit in association with Ward Hadaway and the CBI throughout the period of the negotiations.

The Impact of Brexit on Business takes place on Wednesday 21 June, from 8am to 10.30am at Ward Hadaway on Newcastle’s Quayside. There are still some places available and you can book on our eventbrite page here.

Vision becomes a reality for city business partners

Members of Sunderland Business Group met recently at Hope Street Xchange, the University of Sunderland’s new centre for enterprise and innovation, designed to support the city’s entrepreneurial growth.

Hope Street Xchange is a £10m centre for enterprise and innovation, funded by the University of Sunderland and supported by £4.9m investment from the North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s Local Growth Fund. The centre supports fledgling start-ups and offers space for existing businesses to develop and grow. Located on the University’s city centre campus, it also serves as a gateway to the University’s research, expertise and problem solving provision.

Sunderland Business Group was behind the initial proposal for a one-stop shop to increase entrepreneurship in the city and tackle the low levels of enterprise and business start-ups in the region. Representing leaders from public and private sectors, the Business Group works collaboratively on strategic projects to support Sunderland’s growth and prosperity; the University is one of the group’s founding members, and has been central to its many successful initiatives, all of which have benefited the city.

Shirley Atkinson, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, commented: “The Business Group’s vision was to create a hub where businesses can interact with the University to support their innovation and growth. That could be for internships and placements, knowledge transfer partnerships or higher or degree apprenticeships. We also wanted to support creative endeavour through access to facilities and laboratory space – including the region’s first FabLab where designers and entrepreneurs can prototype ideas using the latest digital fabrication facilities.

“The approach proposed by Business Group partners resonates with our University’s vision, as outlined in our Strategic Plan ‘We are the Tomorrow Makers’. This plan, which we launched last autumn, sets out a bold ambition for Sunderland graduates to become the future leaders of societies and economies. The plan also articulates the University’s role as an anchor institution in the North East, making significant social, economic and cultural contributions to its locality. A recent independent economic impact study estimates that the University generates £432m GVA for the North East economy, supporting 5,400 jobs, we’re very proud of that impact and that our ‘Tomorrow Makers’ vision will become reality through this University and city initiative.”

Now open, Hope Street Xchange will accommodate 49 established businesses and 150 new business ventures, creating almost 400 jobs in innovative, high-growth sectors linked to the University’s academic strengths and research practice, including advanced manufacturing and technology, health sciences, business and finance, and the creative and cultural sector.

Hope Street Xchange will also provide immediate access to a wealth of ‘real life’ applied research, practical business advice, expert mentoring, knowledge transfer partnerships and support through student work placements and graduate interns.

Hans Moller, Innovation Director at the North East LEP, said: “The finished building provides a nurturing environment to support innovative entrepreneurialism and welcomes businesses large and small to engage with the University. We’re excited to see the great things that will no doubt emerge from such an enterprising initiative.”

As well as the region’s first FabLab the centre includes hatchery and hot-desk space for University staff and student enterprise projects, flexible light-industrial, laboratory and office space for businesses seeking to co-locate with the University, a new home for the University’s graduate enterprise development facility, and a choice of 30 Grade A offices plus workshops, conference area and meeting spaces.

A team of advisers, including a dedicated business development support team provide a wrap around service for the Hope Street Xchange community of entrepreneurs, businesses, and fledgling enterprises.

The £270m Local Growth Fund, secured as part of the North East Growth Deal, supports the North East LEP’s delivery of the Strategic Economic Plan, which aims to create 100,000 more and better jobs by 2024.

Gateshead College Principal Judith new business growth board appointment

Gateshead College Principal and Chief Executive Judith Doyle has been appointed to the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board to represent the further education sector.

Her appointment is seen as key in bringing outstanding FE sector leadership and award-winning knowledge to the board which is focused on helping regional businesses achieve and sustain high growth.

Judith took over leadership of Gateshead College four years ago, driving change and turning it from an institution judged by Ofsted as requiring improvement to one rated as outstanding. It is now being championed as a blue print for the sector by Minister of State for Education and Skills, Robert Halfon following his recent visit to launch the government’s industrial strategy.

Thanks to the improvements made under her leadership, Gateshead College is now ranked third in the country for overall success rates, boasting apprentices which are ten per cent above national benchmarks for their achievements within their chosen course and field.

The college is a significant business in its own right with a £40m turnover and more than 600 staff.

Under Judith’s leadership, the college strives to ensure students develop the skills needed for work and that employers have access to the most highly prized employees in the jobs market.

Judith was named the country’s top FE college leader by judges of the prestigious TES Awards, who referenced her widespread regard amongst college colleagues and the wider North East business community.

She is also a board member of Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, Queen Elizabeth NHS Trust and a member of the CBI’s regional council.

Judith said: “I am delighted to join the Growth Board and welcome the opportunity to work with such a great team of people who all share a passion and drive to help businesses grow and thrive in our region. A strong infrastructure of education, training and skills aligned to the needs of industry is crucial if we are to achieve our collective ambitions.”

Mark Thompson, LEP Business Growth Board Chair, said: “Judith’s nationally renowned knowledge of the FE sector and proven experience of managing a large business will prove to be an invaluable asset to our board.

“She is ideally placed to help us support business growth in so many ways, for example inspiring leaders by supporting, advising and peer mentoring business people looking to grow their company.”

The LEP’s Business Growth Board oversees a programme of activity to create more and better jobs through a dynamic and entrepreneurial economy that enables businesses to scale up, thrive and grow.

This includes the North East Growth Hub, providing access to finance, mentoring support and a Manufacturing Growth Programme.

North East manufacturing scheme helping businesses to achieve multi-million pound growth

North East LEP scheme helps manufacturing businesses identify barriers to growth

A programme to help manufacturing businesses grow, launched in the summer of last year by the North East LEP has already provided growth support to a range of manufacturing SMEs, from a multi-million pound turnover printing business to a small new leisure wear business with high-growth potential.

The Manufacturing Growth Programme (MGP) is aimed at helping manufacturers in the North East who want to grow their business. Experienced manufacturing business advisers work with senior management teams, using a holistic approach to business diagnostic and improvement, to identify how to improve performance across all areas of their operations.

DSM Fabrications, a £2m turnover business specialising in metal fabrication services, based in South Shields, participated in the programme. Working with experienced manufacturing business advisers, senior management were able to create a new plan for growth, identifying three key areas for the business to develop; sales and marketing, succession planning, and market positioning.

The MGP business adviser created a detailed plan for each of the areas of improvement. The plan included succession of the original owner from the business from the day-to-day running, recruitment of a business development manager and types of reward mechanisms, sales and marketing strategy to open up new markets and a list of ‘top ten’ potential clients.

David Gracie, Managing Director at DSM Fabrications said: “The experienced and specialist adviser we worked with from the Manufacturing Growth Programme provided us with the framework and time to step back and think what was required from a strategic point of view.
“The consultancy provided gave us clear advice on where we needed to target our attention as we look to grow the business further.”
The MGP pilot programme will run for another five months and aims to work with more than 80 businesses to create 160 new manufacturing jobs.

It forms part of the North East LEP’s strategic economic plan to foster growth within key sectors of the economy in order to create more and better jobs. The programme could be extended if the pilot proves successful.
The programme is delivered by business support firm BE Group and Improvement Architecture, a specialist business improvement consultancy.

Graham Sleep, founder and MD of Improvement Architecture, said: “Having worked with small and medium sized manufacturing businesses over many years our team has developed a good understanding of the common challenges they face, which can prevent them from reaching their true potential revenues and profit levels.
“We have been using a unique model to highlight relative strengths of the businesses we’re supporting, so they can become more competitive, productive and profitable.”
John Barnett, a member of the LEP’s Business Growth Board, said, “The programme is designed to stimulate the growth of manufacturing businesses across the North East through in-depth one-to-one guidance from manufacturing growth experts.
“I’d encourage any small and mid-sized North East manufacturing businesses with growth ambitions to get involved with this free programme to unlock their potential.
“Manufacturing capability lies at the heart of this region’s future economic prosperity and I am particularly pleased the LEP is investing in its development.”
If you are a North East manufacturer and want help to grow, visit, to access this expert support.

£9.7m in grant funding available for rural businesses through the Rural Development Programme for England

The latest round of grant funding from the Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) for the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) area has been announced, with grant funding totalling £9.7m available to businesses in the food processing, tourism and rural business development sectors.

The RDPE provides funding for projects in England which create jobs and growth in the rural economy.

Applications are being sought for projects that will grow a business, create jobs or bring more money in to the rural economy. Grant funding can help pay for constructing or improving buildings, and buying new equipment and machinery.

Three grant funds are available: Rural Business Development Grants, Rural Tourism Infrastructure Grants and Food Processing Grants.

Rural business development grants will help fund the growth of small rural businesses, new or existing. This includes farmers who want to diversify in to non-agricultural activities.

Rural tourism infrastructure grants will help fund the costs of capital expenditure on tourism infrastructure. The aim is to support projects that will encourage more tourists to come, to stay longer, and to spend more money in rural areas.

Food processing grants will help fund food processing businesses to grow and create jobs. This is for food and drink processing businesses which process agricultural and horticultural products. Examples include meat, milk, grain and root vegetables. Fisheries projects are not eligible.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director at the North East LEP, said: “The rural economy plays an important part in the region’s overall economic success and we would urge businesses to take this opportunity to access the funding available which will help to grow and develop their business.”

The capital grants, which will be made available from the Rural Payments Agency, will fund up to 40% of a project’s costs with the minimum grant amount being £35,000. This means that a project’s overall cost would need to be over £87,500 to be eligible for the funding. To be eligible for the grants, businesses must be located in the eligible rural areas of County Durham, Northumberland and Gateshead or within the North East Rural Growth Network boundary, (see map).

The North East Local Enterprise Partnership works closely with Government to ensure that the European Funding allocation is aligned to projects that help deliver the North East Strategic Economic Plan. Priority sectors are manufacturing and engineering, pharmaceuticals, food and drink, and knowledge intensive business services and creative businesses.

Three workshops will be held for businesses to find out more about the funds. These are planned for:-

Tuesday 14 February – Kirkley Hall, Northumberland
One workshop covering tourism grants and a separate workshop for rural business development and food processing grants.

Thursday 16 February – Durham County Hall, Durham
This workshop will cover food business development and food processing grants.

To book a place at any of these events, click here

There is no deadline for applicants as the calls are open until January 2018, although applications will be reviewed every three months.

Full details of the calls and guidance notes can be found: here

Applicants are invited to submit expressions of interest via email to[email protected]

The grants are funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD), which is part of the European Structural Investment Funds (ESIF).

The European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) supports European policy on rural development. To this end, it finances rural development programmes across the Member States and the regions of the Union. Programmes are designed in cooperation between the European Commission and the Member States, taking into account the strategic guidelines for rural development policy adopted by the Council and the priorities laid down by national strategy plans.

Government boosts North East’s Local Growth Fund allocation by further £49.7m

A £49.7 million allocation of Local Growth Funding from Government has taken the 2015-2021 total for the North East to £379.6 million.

The majority of the funding will be used as investment into the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP) near Nissan, which will secure 5,200 jobs for the North East economy by 2027.

The IAMP is a 100-hectare site that bridges South Tyneside and Sunderland and aims to provide a world-class environment for high-tech industries and advanced manufacturing businesses on a site just north of Nissan’s existing manufacturing plant.
The IAMP will bring huge benefits for the North East Economy and will support and grow the established supply chain in the area.

The Park will significantly strengthen the region’s reputation as the UK’s automotive sector national hub and show case the smart specialisations skills of the North East and help increase the offer to inward investors.

Andrew Hodgson, North East Local Enterprise Partnership Chair, said: ‘This latest growth deal allows the North East LEP to invest and drive forward the delivery of the International Advanced Manufacturing Park. We will work with our local authority partners, North East Automotive Alliance and the private sector to deliver this vitally important scheme, which is of strategic importance not only for the North East, but for the UKs industrial strategy.’

“The Government has chosen not to back our full Local Growth Fund bid which is deeply disappointing and potentially damaging to our Strategic Economic Plan to grow the North East economy.

“Our LGF allocation gives us no scope to fund a range of projects which would have driven new growth and provided real impetus to business development – as well as giving the North East the chance to contribute more fully to the Government’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.”

There will also be a small allocation to fund a Business, Innovation and Skills Infrastructure programme which will support businesses seeking to grow and develop, and provide workers with the necessary facilities needed to improve their skills.