As we approach the anniversary of the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and first lockdown, it is incredible to reflect just how much has changed. The success of the vaccination programme, along with the Prime Minister’s recently announced pathway to unlocking the country, is offering us all a real hope that spring and summer will bring about yet more change – this time for the better.
As we emerge from the pandemic, our priorities will be ensuring that we do not have a further wave, and that we begin rebuilding our economy as quickly as possible. I know that many businesses in the West of England have suffered greatly due to the lockdown, and are eager to open up as quickly as possible. I will do everything I can to support the Government’s plans to ensure that business can resume both quickly and safely.
There will be a real burst of energy as businesses open up, residents enjoy their regained freedoms and start spending again. West of England businesses are creative and ambitious, and I am confident that there will be many new ideas for growth, as well as new products and services.
To offer support to our cherished businesses and fire up the engines of growth in the region, I am pleased to be launching new Business Growth Grants as part of my recovery plans. These grants will be of between £1,500 and £6,000 and can be used for activity that creates jobs, new products and services or increases productivity. For example, the grant can be used to buy new equipment or machinery to produce a new product, or for creating new services such as new digital platforms to reach new customers. The grant can also be used to adopt new processes and ways of working. The Combined Authority will provide up to 80% of funding for these new initiatives with businesses committing 20% themselves. I hope that this will go a long way to unleashing the potential of businesses as we recover and rebound as a region.
Our businesses are the backbone of our success and prosperity as a region, so I have committed the Combined Authority to supporting them through a wide range of activities as part of my Recovery Plan. We are providing businesses with support and mentors; helping them organise their finances for enhanced resilience; offering support and training to ensure businesses can find the skills they need to thrive; and supporting new ways of working through the growth grants and helping businesses trade online.
We’re also assisting organisations of all sizes to innovate, giving them access to expertise, funding and partnerships to bring new products and services to market. Coupled with our bid for a Freeport, I have a vision to lay the foundations for sustained growth over decades to come as the West of England remains a global centre for innovation, trading with an ever-growing range of global markets.
Businesses can find out more about the growth grants, and pre-register on the West of England Growth Hub website, which provides also SMEs with tailored one-to-one advice and access to finance, support programmes and expert guidance.
As we emerge from this pandemic, I have renewed hope and optimism that the West of England can not only bounce back, but emerge stronger than ever before.