Creating a world class business support service
In July 2013 I joined the LEP board and took on responsibility for ensuring the Sheffield City Region’s ambitious plans for a ‘one-stop shop for business support’ would meet the needs of businesses across the City Region.
I’m a partner at Grant Thornton which has offices in the Sheffield City Region and is one of the world’s leading organisations of independent assurance, tax and advisory services. As a Grant Thornton partner and as a LEP board member, being at the centre of the professional services community is critical to ensuring that I can help businesses find solutions they need to succeed.
Since joining the LEP, I have been working with colleagues from across the local professional services community, Government and local Government to help design a service which aims to provide a ‘world class’ system of business support across the Sheffield City Region. This has involved two years of negotiations with Government and working with local partners to design a service with the unique needs of our local business community at its heart. I’d be the first to agree that it’s taken longer than we wanted, but the scale of our ambition has been huge, and the next 12 months will see the gradual launch of a range of services which will bring a vital consistency and transformation in business support across the City Region.
We are now getting the Sheffield City Region Growth Hub up and running. We’ve just appointed a Growth Hub Manager, David Grimes, who will take up the post this week. David’s first priority will be to a select a team of expert business advisors ready to respond to enquiries from businesses across the City Region. The Hub will offer specialist advice and support in relation to access to finance, export and international trade, innovation, skills and start-up support. Building on the devolution deal we signed earlier in the year, we are also taking steps to integrate the Government’s national Business Growth Service with our local offer. This will enable any company to access ‘the best’ of what is on offer, regardless of who they choose to contact first.
One of the Growth Hub’s key priorities will be to unlock ‘stuck’ projects and support companies to access external finance. The Growth Hub’s Access to Finance Centre of Expertise (AFCoE) will provide a gateway to privately and publically backed finance and investment products and solutions, and an information centre for other business services available from the private sector. The service is already working with its first few customers, and this will be ‘scaled up’ over the coming months. AFCoE will take responsibility for our new Business Investment Fund – which will enable judicious use of grants to support a transformational change in our local economy.
Another priority for the City Region is to substantially increase our exports and international trade. We are keen to deliver at least our ‘share’ of the national export target and are working together locally to integrate both national and local support into the UK’s first Export Centre of Expertise as a spoke of the Growth Hub. This will make it simple for our businesses to get the export support they need to either begin exporting for the first time or enter new markets.
Business growth and the Growth Hub forms just one of the ‘three pillars’ of our economic strategy. This year our City Region has been developing its Integrated Infrastructure Plan which will set out ambitious plans to deliver the transport, property, energy and environmental improvements needed to grow our economy.
This plan will build on the success of our existing City Region-wide investment fund, including improvements which has seen work getting underway on major infrastructure projects this year, including transport and digital connectivity at our Enterprise Zone sites and key employment growth locations. Before the end of the year we’ll be ready to launch our Skills Bank programme, which will improve the skills base of our workforce, whilst changing the way the skills system operates by placing the purchasing power for skills in the hands of local employers.
Our LEP is being motivated by the strong shared desire from the private and public sector to work together to grow our businesses and create more and better jobs. Our shared ambitions will continue to drive improvements over the long term. The ongoing support provided by projects like the Growth Hub and Skills Bank, backed up by better local infrastructure, will give local businesses the stability and certainty they need to grow.