Chair of the of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, Christian Brodie, explains how they are working with local business and universities to help stimulate economic recovery and growth in the region.
The South East business community – like so many others across the UK – is facing one of its most challenging times to date. As we move into a new phase of lockdown guidance, we start to look to the future for our business community, what is possible and what does a new world of socially distanced enterprise and COVID-secure business operations look like?
How we are supporting business and the economy
The South East LEP has been working closely with our Growth Hub partners, Chambers of Commerce, FSB, Universities and our Local Authorities to support the regional business community.
Towards the beginning of lockdown, we called on businesses to share their thoughts and worries on the immediate impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. This provided us with key insights into the main concerns of businesses. We have since launched our second survey, focusing on business recovery as lockdown restrictions begin to ease which is still live and can responded to here.
We know, as a region, we house a disproportionate number of businesses in the aviation, hospitality, destination and cultural sectors – all of which have been most affected by COVID-19. We recognise also that the landscape for Higher Education looks especially challenging. We have nine universities, in the SELEP area, there is no question that the HE sector is going to have to adjust in terms of income from students and research. We understand that a cohort of graduates are going to be graduating into an extremely depressed economy this year. We are looking at how, as a cohort of businesses and organisations, we can help those graduates and we are doing all that we can to urge government to provide the utmost support to these sectors.
As a region with a significant proportion of the country’s high-tech, high-growth industries, we have the responsibility, and the power, to help drive the economy as we recover from the damage caused by this pandemic. Universities will play an important role in this regional recovery process. The new Kent and Medway Engineering, Design, Growth and Enterprise (EDGE) Hub at Canterbury Christ Church University, a SELEP funded initiative, is an example of how universities are innovating to ensure the region retains highly skilled graduates in key sectors important to our recovery and growth.
In terms of direct support for businesses in the SELEP area, our Growth Hub has, to date, helped more than 14,000 businesses. The South East Business Hub (SEBH) website contains a comprehensive repository of financial information, general business support, sector-specific guidance, webinars and training, as well as our fact sheet outlining the key financial support on offer to SMEs. Click here to view this catalogue of support.
It is clear from the intelligence we have that the role of digital capability and infrastructure will be crucial in how businesses deliver their services in future and this is already something they are having to invest in from software, to processing payments to physical assets. Our Digital Skills Partnership is also supporting a new, free volunteering platform by Founders4Schools and BCG Digital Ventures, which aims to bring together digital experts, business owners and charities to help SMEs improve their digital skills. The Digital Boost platform was set up to help the businesses that have been negatively affected by the pandemic; to help them become more tech-savvy by pairing them with digital expert volunteers. Click here to find out more.
Our projects and funding
We are changing how we prioritise projects through our Growing Places Fund, which is a recyclable loan fund with a current £22 million pot. Our Board has recently supported a £2million COVID-19 Skills Fund; a £2.4million a COVID-19 SME Business Support Fund; and £1million to extend SELEP’s existing Sector Support Fund programme to 2022. More details can be found here
With our Local Growth Funded, large infrastructure and property projects, the South East LEP team is working with all partners to gather details of how projects are impacted by COVID-19 and implications for timeline and delivery. We are working with the national LEP Network and Greater South LEPs to push back to government and make the strongest case we can for protecting investment in priority projects that will unlock growth and support recovery.
The South East LEP will continue supporting businesses where we can, using our funding streams to prioritise projects most in need and beneficial to the recovery of the economy. We are working hard with our local partners and our MPs to minimise damage to the South East’s economy as the country begins a tentative shift out of lockdown and back to what will admittedly be a new normal. To keep up to date with the activities of SELEP, click here to sign up to our weekly newsletters, or visit us at southeastlep.com.