David Kidney’s blog: September 2023
Business Growth West Midlands Launch
Representing the Cluster, I attended the launch of the new business support service Business Growth West Midlands at Coventry Building Society Arena on 12 September 2023. This new service covers the seven Metropolitan areas that make up the footprint of the Combined Authority.
Students of politics and public funding will know already about these two developments which were relevant to the launch of this new service:
- Brexit brought to an end the ability of the UK to draw on European Regional Development Funds to fund business support and training initiatives and the UK Government has covered some of this loss with the creation of the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
- The UK Government separately decided to review the working and effectiveness of England’s network of 36 LEPs, the Local Enterprise Partnerships, and this has led to significant changes in the arrangements for business support and skills training, especially where there are Combined Authorities with Elected Executive Mayors.
At Coventry Building Society Arena, I witnessed the launch of, and public introduction to, Business Growth West Midlands. Effectively, the three LEPs which together mostly covered the same footprint as the Combined Authority have ceased their operations. Instead, the Combined Authority, with funding from the UK Government under its devolution deal and from the UK Shared Prosperity Fund, has established this new service. In the remainder of the West Midlands, there has been less change – I will come to this later in this blog.
The design of the new Business Growth West Midlands is hub and spoke, with the Combined Authority at its core. A single-point access service – the hub – is contactable by businesses via the new dedicated Business Growth West Midlands website and via a single telephone number 0345 646 1352.
Advisers are on hand for triage, diagnostics and signposting. The “spokes” are the local authorities of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton. Support can include free advice, grants to businesses and access to fully or part funded schemes such as Net Zero grants and Help to Grow programmes.
Business Growth West Midlands will be the first port of call for businesses – and around 100 services can be accessed. These include:
- National schemes like Made Smarter – £2.3M a year for our region’s manufacturers to become more resilient, flexible, productive and environmentally sustainable;
- Business Energy Advice Service – what Mayor Andy Street described as unique to the West Midlands, a UK Government-funded programme available to all businesses everywhere in the West Midlands aiming to deliver 4,000 energy audits;
- A raft of regional programmes covering Decarbonising, Help to Grow, Innovation and Investment Readiness.
On that latter point about investment funding, Mayor Andy Street acknowledged that the West Midlands has to do more to grow its investor community but he reminded us of the successful launch in May of the new WM Co-investment Fund.
I am also excited by the creation by eight research intensive universities in the Midlands of Midlands Mindforge – a new investment company to accelerate the commercialisation of university spinouts and early-stage IP rich businesses in the region, aiming to raise up to £250M for investment.
Mayor Andy Street also highlighted Aston’s Leadership & Management Programme and the Combined Authority’s investment in Skills Bootcamps as major enablers of growth in our region’s economy.
I encourage HealthTech businesses in the West Midlands to check out what is available from this new business support service, Business Growth West Midlands.
Outside the seven Met footprint of the Combined Authority, the UK Government’s review of LEPs has led to a variety of changes to business support services. Prior to the review, LEPs locally had all established “Growth Hubs” where support for businesses and skills training was focused. In most of the Counties of the West Midlands these Growth Hubs continue to be the go-to places for businesses to access these services. In most cases, the Growth Hubs have been split off from the old LEPs and, supported by the local authorities in their areas, they are resourced through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
For businesses beyond the boundaries of the West Midlands Combined Authority, it is worth checking out both the local Growth Hub and also those programmes administered by Business Growth West Midlands which extend across all the West Midlands.
If any HealthTech business has difficulty accessing business support services, you are welcome to contact the Cluster for our assistance.
David Kidney, Executive Chair
14 September 2023.