As the world settles into a temporary ‘new normal’, as we deal with COVID-19, I’ve been struck by how our region’s response to the virus really underlines our strengths in collaboration and supporting one another. I’ve been heartened to see thousands of individuals and businesses stepping up to support each other, our key workers and the national efforts in tackling COVID-19.
Last month, I put out a call out for businesses to donate any surplus personal protection equipment (PPE) they might have to our frontline NHS and care workers. The response has been excellent, and I’m pleased to hear that these donations are helping ensure our doctors, nurses and carers are able to carry out their heroic work as safely as possible.
It’s also striking how West of England businesses from all sectors are offering a whole range of support for workers, residents and other businesses during the lockdown. Our innovative manufacturers have rapidly shifted their production lines toward ventilator production; local retailers and restaurants have been providing food to key workers and the vulnerable, and museums such as We the Curious science centre have been offering free online talks and planetarium shows. Everybody is doing their bit, and it’s great to see how the sectors that the West of England is famous for are all contributing to our region’s effort in their own unique way.
To me, this underlines how our businesses are made up of people who want to support each other, collaborate and improve the region, and indeed world we live in. Even at a time of global pandemic, we are a dynamic, innovative region, something which reflects the diversity and strength of our residents. The survival and success of our businesses is vital to protect the jobs, incomes and quality of life for our residents, so I am doing everything that I can to support them at this time.
Beyond government support such as the Small Business Grant Fund and the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund, this week I welcomed an additional £1.25 billion for businesses driving innovation. This includes £750 m of targeted support for small and medium-sized businesses focusing on research and development, one of our regional strengths which we must support. Furthermore, I have also helped secure additional funding for the West of England Growth Hub to step up support for our SMEs.
I cannot emphasise enough how important it is for every business to check which grants or loans they might be entitled to and ensure they are benefiting from them. To find out more about grants for SMEs visit our Growth Hub website.
Finally, this week I announced the establishment of the West of England Economic Recovery Board. Our region went into this emergency in a strong position, with record employment and a diverse, innovative economy. That stands us in good stead for the recovery and my team and I at the Combined Authority are working with business, universities, our councils and other key organisations to develop a West of England-specific approach to recovery that will have the greatest impact and help us emerge stronger than before.