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A once in a generation opportunity to modernise business support

Colin Bell, Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, explains why evolution is key to simplifying the business support landscape to be meaningful for businesses  

It won’t surprise anyone when I say that the business support landscape is too confusing and overly transactional. There are many reasons for this but perhaps the biggest contributor is the way funding is administered and governed.

If we truly want the UK to be the best place in the world to start and grow a business, then we need to grasp the once in a generation opportunity represented by the current LEP reform. This will allow us to break with the status quo while building on what works, creating regional ecosystems that deliver economic and business transformation while strengthening our global competitiveness.

However, there is a real and present danger – if we don’t act now then we risk merely evolving what’s gone before, and even worse, creating a post code lottery of locally focused small scale schemes that will result in limited impact and increased fragmentation; and inefficiencies that will exacerbate rather than address the weaknesses of the current funding and fragmented landscape.

Addressing the frailties of the system is relatively simple. We need to develop a way of working that effectively connects the essential pillars of regional economic development, which are Governance, Strategy, Funding and Delivery infrastructure.

Where these don’t work hand in hand, it leads to many of the existing issues that we are experiencing, such as inefficiency, confusion, duplication and unhealthy competition between stakeholders.

Modernising the landscape requires:

  • Creating systems that connect the essential pillars (Governance, Strategy, Funding, Delivery infrastructure) without dictating a one size fits all approach.
  • Developing regional strategy and frameworks that are built around businesses operational and competitive horizons.   
  • The creation of a long term regional economic development ‘system’, backed by long term strategy and long-term funding.
  • A system that is focused on delivering impact and transformation rather than box ticking and transactional approaches.
  • The modernisation of the business support landscape by a) rethinking how we segment the business base to identify those with real underlying potential, and b) structuring support that directly tackles business pains and helps business to deliver the gains they’re striving for.
  • Building on the existing and proven ability of LEPs and Growth Hubs to align collective energy and resources towards clear and common goals and strategy.

The evolution of LEPs and Growth Hubs should be welcomed as a much-needed chance to modernise business support. 

I know I’m joined by many in the belief that this is an opportunity to develop a landscape that enables genuine business and economic transformation. Through meaningful change, we can deliver powerful and integrated customer journeys and focused resource and energy on the businesses, programmes, and initiatives that make a real difference to the business community.

Get this right and it could be a powerful and effective way to support the government’s agenda to level up our regional economies.

Colin Bell is Business and Sector Growth Director at the North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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IN CONVERSATION WITH…Colin Bell, Business Growth Director of the North East LEP and Ammar Mirza CBE, newly appointed Chair of the North East LEP’s Business Growth Board, talk about their aspirations for the future.

Ammar, you are a North East LEP Board member and the newly appointed Chair of the Business Growth Board. What is your ambition for this role?

The LEP is made up of individuals with significant experience, expertise and endorsement, representing the public, private and academic sectors, all with a shared ambition of making the North East a better place where we create more and better jobs, which is clearly even more important now.

Being the chair of the Business Growth Board is a privilege given the other members of the Board and the enthusiasm of Colin and his team to bring our strategy to fruition.  My ambition is for our work to help our communities realise their goals and raise aspirations, ultimately making a sustainable, meaningful and measurable impact.

Colin – your Business Growth Board has had a bit of a shake up, with Ammar joining as Chair alongside five new people, and a number of long-standing board members supporting a strong executive team. How important it is to have a strong relationship between the board and executive and what are you most excited about for the future?

Having a strong and active board who keep me and my team on their toes, provide constructive challenge, are prepared to be active in supporting and promoting the North East’s business community and who bring ideas to the table is what I look for.

It’s therefore fantastic that Ammar is the new Chair of the Business Growth Board as that’s exactly what he brings. His approach is all about channelling energy, action and being a champion of the North East.

Ammar is supported by some fantastic new Business Growth Board members including Darren Laybourne , Director at Turner and Townsend who brings a wealth of experience in scaling a global business; Liz Bromley, CEO of the Newcastle College Group who runs one of the UK’s largest college businesses; Paul Butler, CEO of North East Automotive Alliance who brings an expertise in in business support and industrial clustering; Yvonne Gale, CEO, NEL Fund Managers, providing a vital insight into the investor community; and Steve Underwood, Director, Dentsu Aegis, one of the UK’s largest digital agencies. This formidable group of business leaders joins our existing board members: Toby Bridges, Chairman, NBT Group; Ryan Maughan, CEO, Avid Technology; and Kate Wickham, CEO, Gate 7.

You’re both at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. How has this manifested into support for the North East business community? 

Ammar: People are understandably confused, concerned and cynical of the future, which in turn demands a response that is relevant, responsive and regionally focused.  The support led by the LEP and supported by a whole host of partners including the SME Centre of Excellence means that SMEs can get the right support at the right time to survive.

Colin: We are speaking with businesses every day to understand the practical challenges that they are facing and feeding intelligence to Government to inform them about what’s needed in terms of support.

At a regional level we are working closely with our partners to introduce initiatives to fill the cracks, such as Crowdfunder North East and the enhanced grant funding for the supply of PPE via Supply Chain North East. We are increasingly looking to the future and are currently working with Ammar and the Business Growth Board to develop a plan of action to support businesses through the restart phase so as many as possible bounce back strongly from the current situation.

The North East Growth Hub has seen a huge increase in businesses engaging with it and is becoming the go-to hub for information relating to not just COVID-19 but all business support and access to finance in the region. What impact is this having and why is it important?

Ammar: Having a single source of credible and up to date information is critical to help individuals access the support they need, especially in challenging times. The Growth Hub has always been a rich resource to help SMEs thrive.  Given the substantial number of service providers that feed into the Growth Hub, together with the Connectors who are able to provide one-to-one support, everyone accessing the service will benefit.

Colin: Businesses want access to simple and impartial support and guidance. The Growth Hub brings all support into one place and does not have any vested interests or targets to refer businesses to particular schemes – we are 100% focused on what’s right for the businesses.

Our highly experienced Growth Hub Connectors are there to have open and honest discussions with business owners. During the crisis they’ve been able to help remove some of the anxiety by helping them to see a path through the confusion and engage them on support and funding options of which they were perhaps unaware.

The North East LEP and the North East Growth Hub have been combining forces with other organisations to deliver support. Why is that partnership approach important?

Ammar: The North East is renowned for being the friendliest place in the country, and never has friendship and partnership been more important.  The LEP has always acted as an enabler, recognising that we must create a community underpinned by a collaborative campaign to develop an effective eco-system that will help our region restart, revive and ultimately thrive.  It is this partnership approach that will help us progress to a better place.

Colin: The Growth Hub is an impartial and trusted broker and we work with businesses to understand challenges and opportunities and then connect them with the people, organisations and solutions that we believe are best for them.

The delivery of support is carried out by our partners who are national and locally based and from the public, private and education sectors. We work closely with our partners through the Business Support Provider Network, which provides a forum to align their collective efforts to the delivery of economic strategy and to inform the development of business support and finance solutions that will deliver the greatest impact to businesses.

What should businesses be thinking about now in terms of recovery and readying for a recession?

Ammar: The three biggest enablers to success for any organisation are digital transformation, innovation and new markets.  These factors are even more critical to the recovery of our economy and that is where the Business Growth Board is focusing all its attention and efforts.  This includes working with the Michigan Institute of Technology Team and key stakeholders to develop an eco-system that gives our whole region a competitive advantage and an accelerated recovery plan.

Every business should be planning and preparing for the future in an innovative, inclusive and industrious manner.  Especially as the North East started the industrial revolution.

Colin: Businesses need to consider what they have learnt through the pandemic that they can use to give their business an edge moving forward. This may be things like honing into new market opportunities, developing new ways of working, harnessing technology and unearthing new capabilities within their teams.

People are pulling together to support one another through the current situation. How can business leaders follow this through into the recovery and harness the fire in people’s bellies, their collective energy, passion and creativity to deliver a better future – it’s by no means going to be easy but it’s our fighting spirit, grit and determination that will help the North East to bounce back.

ENDS

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Being mentored by some of the North East’s most successful business people is proven to unlock business growth

Aspirational businesses owners from across the North East are accelerating their growth thanks to mentoring from some of the region’s most successful business people.

Fulfilling the North East’s strategic economic aim of creating 100,000 ‘more and better jobs’ is reliant on more businesses making the jump to their next level of growth. Many businesses in the region have a turnover that typically fluctuates between 750k and £1.5million with few breaking through to the next stage of growth. This scenario can be driven by many reasons; some decide that this is the right level for them and accept that some years are better than others, whilst others aspire to grow but for various reasons can’t quite make it happen.

Having access to a mentor who has walked the path and has proven invaluable in helping businesses owners to reach their next level of growth. The North East Growth Hub’s Mentors offer their time voluntarily and are motivated by altruistic endeavour, giving back and making a positive contribution to the North East economy.

They have all experienced the pleasure and pain that comes with scaling a business, they’ve got things wrong and made mistakes and got things right and achieved success. It’s this insight and learning from experience that when passed on has enabled other business owners to short cut barriers and accelerate results. Mentees have typically benefited through:

  • Improving their leadership style
  • Developing a more sustainable business model
  • Accelerating their growth
  • Developing better business skills and planning
  • Achieving better sales and lead generation.

Quality of experience is key. We take great care in selecting suitable mentors and mentees and go to great lengths to ensure strong, trusting and effective matches are made.  It would be great to think that this could be facilitated by a clever database, however, experience shows that a great match can only be achieved by gaining a good understanding of the business and the motivations, interests and personality of both mentor and mentee.

If you are interested, email us at [email protected] to book your space.

May I end by saying a big thanks to all our mentors and mentees – you are amazing! Thanks for helping others reach their full potential.

Colin Bell, Business Growth Director, North East Local Enterprise Partnership.

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820 North East companies gain ScaleUp recognition

The number of fast-growing ambitious businesses with leaders hungry for success is increasing across the North East – new insights from the ScaleUp Institute reveal.

There are now 820 companies in the region that meet the definition of scaleup because they have increased turnover or employment by more than 20% annually. North East scaleups are employing a total of 74,000 staff and their turnover is worth £9.5 billion. This is according to new research by the ScaleUp Institute based on the latest 2017 ONS data.

In the area, the top five scaleups by employment growth are Fairstone Group, Barrier Group, Eden Farm, Connect Health and DW Support Services, while the top five for turnover growth are Barrier Group, The Trout Hotel, Partner Construction, Eden Farm and Crabtree.

Across the UK there are over 36,000 scaleups, an increase of 3.7% from 2016.

ScaleUp Institute Chief Executive Irene Graham said: “Scaleups are the engine drivers of local economies; they are twice as innovative as large firms, employ twice as many apprentices, are twice as likely to be operating in international markets, and, significantly, they create high quality jobs.

“Their aspirations remain high. According to our recent ScaleUp survey eight out of ten expect to scale again in 2019, generating £1.5 billion more in turnover and creating an extra 7,000 jobs.”

While they are ambitious about their growth, scaleups continue to face major challenges. In the North East they particularly highlight access to UK markets, access to talent and leadership development as key issues. They also want easier access to support from peer-to-peer networks, local professional services and public sector funding for innovation.

The ScaleUp Institute notes that the North East offers a number of services for scaleups. “This is encouraging and we will continue to monitor their impact,” said Irene Graham.

Colin Bell, the North East LEP’s Business Growth Director, said: “These results are a great reflection of dynamism and strength of the North East business community. Despite continued uncertainty around Brexit, our entrepreneurs are continuing to scale and drive the North East economy forward.

“Scaleups are critical drivers of economic growth, representing less than 1% of the economy, but generating one third of new economic and jobs growth. That’s why the North East Local Enterprise Partnership set an ambitious target in 2017 to grow the density of scaleups in the North East by 50% by 2024. We now have 17% more scaleups in the region than we did in 2017, which represents strong progress towards our goal – there is lots to feel positive about and the North East business community should look to the future with confidence.

“We have been working hard to ensure our scaleup and scaleup potential businesses have the support they need from within our ecosystem. Support has included the launch of the flagship Scaleup North East service, Supply Chain North East, that introduces businesses to new markets, the £120 million North East Fund, Growth through Mentoring, that introduces business owners to mentors who have scaled their own business and worked with partners such as the Entrepreneurs Forum to create the peer driven Scaleup Leaders Academy.