The Business Finance Guide explores how start-ups and small businesses can benefit from business support within their region.
Across the UK there’s a huge amount of business support available free-of-charge to firms of all shapes and sizes. Business support is a devolved activity, so businesses in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own bespoke services offered through Business Gateway Scotland, Business Wales, and Invest Northern Ireland.
In this article, we’re going to look at the support offered on a regional basis to businesses in England through a network of organisations called growth hubs. England’s 39-strong growth hub network was set up by the government to address the barriers to growth experienced across the country’s regions. Evidence suggests that businesses that tap into business support networks often do better than those that don’t.
Access to free local business support
Call the National Business Support Helpline, which can connect you with your local growth hub.
The helpline website has the phone numbers to call for businesses in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Regional business support via growth hubs and LEPs
Growth hubs first started in 2014, when the government decided that it needed a localised approach to address the issues and barriers to growth seen in the different regions of England. While there are a few overlaps in geographic boundaries between the 39 areas, each growth hub sits within a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). There are 38 LEPs in England following a merger between Northamptonshire and South East Midlands LEPs in 2016.
Each growth hub works independently and is driven by the economic requirements within its region, meaning that each of the 39 growth hubs will offer slightly different solutions to their neighbours.
How growth hubs and LEPs work
LEPs work at a strategic level within a region to determine the area’s economic priorities, with the purpose of boosting the performance of the local economy. LEPs exist to address the issues that are prohibiting local economic growth and work with a range of different bodies to overcome those challenges. Different regions will experience different pressures – anything from roads, transport and congestion, to unemployment, skills shortages or diminishing workforces.
Priorities in England’s large cities will be quite different to those in more rural areas, and consequently the business support offered within each growth hub varies. LEPs partner with public and private sectors including local authorities, universities, colleges, and local businesses – and each LEP is usually chaired by a local private sector individual.
Growth hubs are different to LEPs in that they are focused on the tangible delivery of business support within each region. Growth hubs provide face-to-face professional advice to businesses and signpost them to the best resources from both the public and private sector within the area.
About LEP Boards
LEP Boards are responsible for developing economic strategies and making funding decisions.
Just as each LEP operates independently, the compositions of each LEP Board is slightly different.
Board members go through a thorough recruitment process, and the Boards tend to be diverse, with individuals representing different industries and sectors. Most importantly, LEP boards are made up of people with excellent knowledge or their local area.
The LEP Network has recently announced a focus to boost the recruitment of women leaders onto LEP Board roles. Find out more here.
Growth hubs are open to all businesses
Some growth hubs will offer sector specific programmes and funding opportunities dependent on the strengths and growth areas within their local economies – some growth hubs support advanced manufacturing or space technology, for example. However, growth hubs are open to all businesses, regardless of their sector, and most of the programmes offered are available to all businesses.
Whatever your business’s area of expertise, it is always worth contacting your local growth hub for an initial conversation to understand the opportunities available to you.
What you can expect from your local growth hub
When you contact your local growth hub, you’ll be assigned a dedicated business adviser, who’ll be your first point of call throughout. The adviser will set up an initial meeting with you, which usually takes place at your premises, although if you have limited space (perhaps if you’re a start-up) initial meetings can be held at your local growth hub offices.
At your initial meeting your adviser will want to understand what your growth plans are, which will lead to a diagnostic that looks at where your business is at that moment of time. They will work with you to assess where – if any – there are gaps in the in-house skills you need to meet your growth plan, and will work closely with you to find the appropriate support mechanism.
Your adviser will either signpost you to the right local support as a referral, or will work with you intensively for up to 12 hours if they’re able to deliver the right support themselves.
Depending on what you need, the support may be in the shape of HR, marketing, sales, e-commerce, funding and finance, or export and trade. The adviser can also liaise with external organisations to meet your needs – for example, local universities if the need is around innovation, or the Department for International Trade if export support is required. Sometimes the adviser will refer you to support delivered by local public and private sector partners, which in many cases is free of charge – a specific marketing workshop, for instance.
Throughout the entire process your dedicated adviser will keep in touch with you to check how things are progressing, whether there’s anything further you need, and whether the support has been beneficial.
Finance at every stage
Business financing is not a one-off decision, but an ongoing and evolving situation. No decision can be made in isolation to the businesses journey. Find out more about what options are suitable now and what might work at another stage.
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