Research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) found that: “On a wide variety of measures, regional disparities in the UK are greater than in most comparable countries”. The UK Government is committed to levelling up across the UK to ensure no community is left behind, an aim that is ever more important as the UK recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Government’s levelling up initiative will see certain powers over local economic performance decentralised to local partners and communities across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These partners are best placed to understand the economic and societal needs of their local areas and can deliver solutions more quickly and effectively.
To support this initiative, the Government has launched three new investment programmes to support communities across the UK.
The Levelling Up Fund, UK Shared Prosperity Fund and UK Community Renewal Fund will help local areas transition away from European Regional Development Funds, boost local economies and businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and support the levelling up of communities across the UK.
These funds will have a positive impact on businesses operating in regions such as the Northern Powerhouse. This growing economic area, made up of 11 Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) from Liverpool to North Yorkshire already receives support via the Levelling Up Fund and could receive further localised support for its communities identified as ‘priority’ places through the levelling up initiative.
Road to recovery through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund
Regional development funds from the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) will soon be discontinued and will be replaced by the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. The fund will have a purely UK-centric focus and will provide financial support to places in need of regeneration and innovation support, such as ex-industrial areas and coastal communities, as well as employment and skills programmes to individuals facing barriers to the labour market. Supporting local economies and individuals in this way will have a positive impact on the fortunes of small businesses across the UK, particularly in ‘priority’ places.
Piloting innovative solutions for local communities
Before the UK Shared Prosperity Fund is introduced, local communities can apply for funding from the UK Community Renewal Fund to pilot one-year programmes and new approaches. The fund will welcome bids that support local growth through investments in skills, local businesses, and community places, drawing on local insights and complementing other national and local provisions.
In keeping with levelling up, the UK Community Renewal Fund will prioritise projects that target investment into communities in need, in particular those based in the 100 local authorities that suffer from weaker economic performance. These authorities will also receive capacity funding to help them invite and appraise bids that they receive locally.
These funding initiatives present an opportunity for small businesses to adapt and thrive, following a turbulent period of uncertainty caused by the pandemic.
Opportunities for growth for the Northern Powerhouse
New data from the Small Business Equity Tracker has revealed the Northern Powerhouse region was second only to London for the proportion of equity deals completed by the British Business Bank in 2020, accounting for 10% of all bank supported fund deals. This reveals how regional imbalances for investment are moving in the right direction.
Part of the Exemplas Group, Enterprise Growth Solutions Ltd. (EGSL) is a delivery partner for the Department for International Trade (DIT) in Yorkshire and the Humber, inspiring businesses across the region to seize the growth opportunities that international trade can bring. As part of this delivery, DIT’s own Levelling Up Fund has financed several sector specialists who are working across the Northern Powerhouse region, in addition to embedding additional resources within Sheffield and Humber and East Riding LEPs. The Financial and Professional Services (FPS) and Health and Life Sciences sectors are two key industries in the Northern Powerhouse region, and DIT is targeting these sectors for support as part of levelling up. Other sector focuses are education and food and drink.
Initial activities for these specialists included sector mapping across the region and a series of over 20 events since October 2020 in collaboration with partner organisations to help companies in the highlighted sectors access international markets and grow their businesses through exporting. These have included opportunities to meet international buyers, learn from sector-specific webinars and join roundtables with key industry organisations along with a blend of virtual and in-market trade missions.
Another notable initiative is DIT’s Export Academy, designed to help grow businesses by showing them how to sell to new customers around the world. This programme is an opportunity for businesses to learn directly from experts in international trade who are on hand to help companies increase their capacity to grow through exports and access a range of sectors, from selling innovative technologies in Spain to providing financial services for clients in the USA.
Philip Kelly, Managing Director of Enterprise Growth Solutions Ltd., comments:
“After almost a decade of delivering international trade services on behalf of the Department for International Trade in Yorkshire & the Humber, we have developed and delivered transformational solutions that support economic growth in our region. As a trusted partner of the Northern Powerhouse, we work in partnership with other business support organisations in the North to help businesses and local economies grow, whilst playing our part in helping to level up the UK.”